California Governor Gavin Newsom continues to double down on his insistence that his state will only reopen slowly and in phases, even as business owners and workers chafe against the restrictions. But those orders could be in danger if he can’t find law enforcement officials willing to enforce his decrees. That’s the problem he’s running into in Riverside, California, where Sheriff Chad Bianco went viral this week after informing the county Board of Supervisors that he would not be arresting or ticketing otherwise law-abiding citizens for going about their normal affairs. Doing so, he argues, would be a case of essentially turning them into criminals even as he’s being instructed to release actual criminals from his jail. (Fox News)
Riverside County, Calif. Sheriff Chad Bianco said Friday that he refuses to make criminals out of law-abiding business owners exercising their constitutional rights and providing for their families.
A video of Bianco pleading his case before his county’s Board of Supervisors, stating he would not enforce local coronavirus lockdown protocol, went viral on Tuesday.
Appearing on “Fox & Friends” with host Steve Doocy, Bianco explained that the “situation” in Riverside County under state orders is “nothing like they told us it was going to be in the beginning.”
Here’s the video of his speech. It pretty much blew up the internet after Fox News featured it.
So is Bianco a hero or is he creating a constitutional crisis? On the one hand, the courts have thus far consistently ruled that most of the executive decrees being issued by governors and mayors during this pandemic are lawful. In that sense, he’s undermining the Governor’s authority and failing to maintain order.
But at the same time, you could argue that Bianco is the one responsible for keeping order with limited resources and he has to prioritize where his personnel are deployed and what crimes they place the most emphasis on. Think of it as the front-line equivalent of prosecutorial discretion. There may be people engaged in activities that are technically in violation of the rules, but he may believe that there are bigger fish to fry. And we should emphasize that these are “rules” as opposed to laws. The legislature never voted to put these measures in place. It was all done via executive orders.
If the Governor wants to go to war with Bianco over that concept he’ll find himself on shaky ground. After all, this is the same state where the government has continually instructed its law enforcement officials to ignore the presence and activities of illegal aliens and to not enforce federal laws applicable to the situation. What’s good for the goose may turn out to be not so great for the gander.
At the same time, Gavin Newsom is telling various counties they will lose funding if they open early. This seems to be a more common issue in the more rural and less heavily populated counties, including Riverside, where Bianco is located. It’s a situation that we’re seeing more and more of in many parts of the country.
It also speaks to the problems coming from “one size fits all” solutions being applied to large states with diverse regions. Here in New York, the Big Apple has been a total disaster in terms of the novel coronavirus and they clearly need to be careful about how they open back up. But in the upstate region, there are many counties with only a handful of COVID-19 deaths and where the healthcare system was never close to being overwhelmed. People in those counties are already asking why they need to be locked down this long when the situation has thus far remained well under control.
I get the feeling that Sheriff Bianco may wind up just being the tip of the iceberg. If this situation drags on too much longer, Gavin Newsom may have a rebellion on his hands.