The good news is that high school students studying government at places such as Boise’s Timberline are reading columns from hometown daily newspapers and vetting them for proper constitutional references.
It is even better news that they discovered I had misread and grossly misused a passage from Article I, Section 8, in an effort to bolster my argument that the federal government has a right and duty to manage public lands.
You can read the accompanying Guest Opinion and see how I was so thoroughly schooled by these government students and their teacher, Greg Sandmeyer. I had indeed “cherry-picked” — my phrase — a citation so far out of context that the class now has a name for it: Ehlerting.
In a Jan. 7 column I attempted to make a case that the armed people who came to occupy and intimidate people in Burns, Ore., near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, were not the examples I conjure when I read the preamble to the Constitution. I don’t like their style. If I had stopped there and not searched for a citation — well, I didn’t.
I can’t undo that, but I can learn from it. I believe that the framers intended for us to elect our representatives in the legislative and executive branches and that it was their intention these elected officials would appoint appropriate people to manage these lands.
I don’t think you need to be a constitutional scholar to know that taking arms to a wildlife refuge is a bad and probably counterproductive idea. But a passage I could have chosen to demonstrate the authority of the federal government (though all citations seem subject to interpretation) to regulate the public lands is found in Article IV, Section 3, paragraph 2: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the territory or other Property belonging to the United States. ...”
The complicated matter of public land management has been a point of controversy throughout the West for generations. I don’t believe it will be settled anytime soon.
I began this column with that good news/bad news setup. Truth is, the bad news is limited to my misuse of a passage and the half-life of my mistake.
The good news is I learned a lesson and searched deeper for another citation to illustrate my point. Plus, I can sleep at night knowing a new generation of constitutional scholars has a franchise at Timberline High. And that bodes well for preserving the constitutional rights we all deserve.