Newspaper column: States should not be granted absolute immunity « #4TH ST8

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case this past week that could alter the ability of a private citizen to seek justice in his state’s courts when public employees from another state abuse their powers and step over the line of common decency. The case is titled Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt.

It all started in 1993 when a tax auditor for the Franchise Tax Board of California read a newspaper article about how wealthy California computer chip inventor, Gilbert Hyatt, had recently moved to Nevada, which, unlike California, has no income tax. The auditor investigated and concluded Hyatt had not moved to Nevada as early as he claimed. The tax board said Hyatt owed California nearly $15 million in taxes and penalties.

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Editorial: Rooftop solar mandate not a good idea « 4TH ST8

Now that California’s Energy Commission has approved mandatory efficiency standards for all homes built in the state after Jan. 1, 2020, including the requirement that rooftop solar panels be used, a self-styled environmental group is calling on every state to require solar panels on new homes.

Environment America Research & Policy Center says the requirement would save homeowners money and clean up the environment.

The California Energy Commission predicts that its new efficiency measures will mean new homes will use 7 percent less energy, but when the solar generation is factored in the home will use about 53 percent less electricity from the grid. So the bulk of the “savings” will come from the solar panels.

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Good-bye 2018 and good riddance « 4TH ST8

It’s called voting with your feet.

A remarkable number of well-heeled Americans are doing just that, and it should serve as a warning to Nevada voters and candidates as we enter an election year. Though Republican governors in recent years have shepherded through the Legislature record-high tax increases, Nevada still fares fairly well in comparison to other states when it comes to the tax burden borne by citizens of the Silver State. …

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Editorial: BLM should fight wild horse suit this time, by Thomas Mitchell

The usual suspects are at it again, filing a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding the court halt a plan by the Bureau of Land Management to remove all the feral horses in a 40-mile radius around Caliente.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, Western Watershed Project, The Cloud Foundation and a Beatty outdoor enthusiast are suing the BLM, saying it failed to adequately document and support its roundup decision, though what would ever be adequate for them is difficult to say.

Some of the same plaintiffs brought a similar lawsuit in 2011 over a planned removal of wild horses from Jakes Wash west of Ely, but the suit was mooted when the BLM backed down rather fight the matter.

In 2009 there were only 270 wild horses in the 900,000-acre Caliente area, but a year ago there were more than 1,700, a number the BLM deems unsustainable.

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Thomas Mitchell – Free speech includes the right to be silent

The right to free speech includes the right to not be compelled to speak.

That includes not being required to pay dues to a union whose political view might be different from yours, not being required to advertise abortion availability at your faith-based pregnancy counseling service, not being required to use your cake baking talent to create a special cake or your flowing arranging expertise for a gay wedding.

All of these have come down from a closely divided U.S. Supreme Court in a matter of days.

Today the court ruled that public employees could not to be forced to pay dues to unions with which they might not agree. Justice Samuel Alito writes in the 5-4 opinion:

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Thomas Mitchell: Judicial bias depends on the party involved

Bias, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Earlier this year a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision by Reno federal Judge Robert Clive Jones involving water rights in the Walker River Basin and ordered him removed from the case, saying he was biased against the federal government’s attorneys.

“We reluctantly conclude that reassignment is appropriate here because we believe (1) that Judge Jones would have substantial difficulty putting out of his mind previously expressed views about the federal government and its attorneys, and (2) that reassignment will preserve the appearance of justice,” wrote Judge A. Wallace Tashima, noting that in two previous cases the 9th Circuit had said Jones “harbored animus toward the federal agencies” and that “the judge’s bias and prejudgment are a matter of public record …”

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Bias in the media? We’re shocked! Shocked we tell you! – Thomas Mitchell

Columnist Victor Joecks noted that the media jumped all over an obscure Nye County commissioner disendorsing Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt for failing to endorse the Republican primary winner in Assembly District 36, brothel owner Dennis Hof who has been accused of sexual harassment, but totally ignored a press release two weeks ago from Republican Sen. Dean Heller accusing Democratic primary senatorial nominee Jacky Rosen of resume enhancement.

In fact, the same day’s paper carried a lengthy story about the commissioner’s disendorsement of Laxalt along with quotes from Hof about how the move might hurt Laxalt in Nye County and a prepared statement by Laxalt stating, “Adam respects the will of the voters in District 36, however, as a husband and a father of two young daughters, he has stated that he will not be supporting Mr. Hof’s campaign.”

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Free speech does require one to provide someone else a soapbox [THOMAS MITCHELL]

The First Amendment prohibits the federal government abridging one’s free speech, but it does not, as a federal judge has ruled, require anyone to provide the soapbox for that speech.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of New York ruled today President Donald Trump may not block Twitter users who criticize him because that violates their right to free speech.

“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the president’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” the judge said.

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Editorial Thomas Mitchell : Trump administration settles suit over habitat rules

The Trump administration has settled a lawsuit filed by Nevada and 19 other states over Obama administration rules that sweepingly redefined what constituted critical habitat for endangered species and has agreed to rewrite those rules.

The suit, filed in November 2016 against various federal land agencies, accused the federal bureaucrats of essentially rewriting the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) to give themselves potential veto power over any use whatsoever on every square foot of rural land, public or private, in the country.

Though the ESA gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authority to protect “critical habitat” occupied by endangered or threatened species, the rewritten rules redefined “critical habitat” to include land currently unoccupied by those species but just might someday, in some way, somehow — as a result of global warming or a meteor strike, perhaps — later become “critical habitat.”

Those rules gave federal agents the power to block or alter any activity — grazing, farming, buildings, mining, recreation, roads, fences, pipelines, ditches, power lines, irrigation, oil and gas exploration — that might somehow adversely affect a potential habitat for certain protected rodents, minnows, bugs, birds, reptiles, beasts and weeds.

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Column Thomas Mitchell: Neighbors hope Little Ash Springs remains closed

There are two sides to every story.

Four years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo for what was described as a couple of weeks due to a crumbling wall on a manmade pool. It remains closed.

Recently, the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told the Las Vegas newspaper, “This is exactly why the federal government needs to clean up our act. I’m not in the business of locking the public out.”

He added, “We need to work with local communities and be better neighbors …”

Speaking of neighbors, Joe and Andrea Barker own the 13-acre tract adjacent to and downstream from the 1-acre BLM-controlled Little Ash Springs. Their property is known as Big Ash Springs and has 50 springs feeding 94-degree water into meandering shallow rivulets that are home to two endangered species — the White River springfish and the Pahranagat roundtail chub found only in the Ash Springs system.

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Newspaper column: Move the headquarters of federal land agencies West : Feb 16 by Thomas Mitchell

Head ’em up, move ’em out.

There has been a lot of talk since the Trump administration has taken over about where to locate the national headquarters of some of the nation’s federal land agencies. One land agency, the Bureau of Land Management, controls 11 percent of the nation’s lands, but 99 percent of that land is in the West.

Fully 85 percent of the land in Nevada is controlled by those federal land agencies, the highest percentage of any state, with 66 percent of the state lying under the purview of the BLM, while the rest of the public land is controlled by agencies such as the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Reclamation.

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Editorial – Thomas Mitchell : Bundy case secrecy being rightfully challenged

Though the most recent trial of four defendants in the April 2014 standoff between armed protesters and Bureau of Land Management agents trying to confiscate Cliven Bundy’s cattle ended in a mistrial, the case will stand as a historic example of how sweeping secrecy can cast doubt on whether justice is being served.

This past week U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro halted testimony in the trial and sent the jurors home while she heard arguments behind closed doors over whether the prosecution had failed to provide the defense with potentially exculpatory evidence quickly enough. The judge said the prosecution’s repeated failure to timely disclose information was “sufficient to undermine the confidence in the outcome of the trial,” which she said could result in a mistrial. This week she declared a mistrial.

Attorney Maggie McLetchie — representing the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper and Battle Born Media, which publishes weekly newspapers in Mesquite, Ely, Eureka, Sparks and Lincoln and Mineral counties — promptly filed a motion seeking to intervene, which was granted. The newspapers are asking that all documents previously filed under seal be unsealed and that future hearings be conducted in open court.

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Thomas Mitchell: What to do about wild horses? Part 2

In his newly published book, “Wild Horse Country,” writer David Philipps offers his suggestion for what to do about the overpopulation of wild horses in the West, which are overgrazing the open range: “The solution is mountain lions.”

Realizing that this will leave horse-huggers aghast and cause cattle and sheep ranchers to gasp, Philipps forges ahead, “For decades, the BLM has said the wild horse has ‘no natural predators.’ … But the same people who have long dismissed using predators to control horses as impossible have never made an attempt to understand it. They have likely been too busy rounding up and storing horses. If they took the time to look into the idea of mountain lions, they would see that research on the ground contradicts the conventional wisdom.”

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Thomas Mitchell: The strange Bunkerville case has further twists

The twists and turns in the Bunkerville standoff trial defy logic.

Weeks into the federal trial of 71-year-old rancher Cliven Bundy, two of this sons and self-styled militia man from Montana, the judge has decided that all of the defendants should be released from jail to what amounts to house arrest. Ryan Bundy was so released at the beginning of the trial but the judge refused to do the same for the others.

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Thomas Mitchell: Constitution stretched to the breaking point

If words can mean anything anyone says they mean, then words are meaningless. That is what the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has done with the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

The appellate court overturned a federal judge who found that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to regulate a species that exists only within the boundaries of one state and has no commercial value whatsoever — specifically the Utah prairie dog.

Nevada has joined with Utah and 21 other states to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to strike the circuit court ruling, saying that if the ruling stands “then Congress has virtually limitless authority, and the Tenth Amendment is a dead letter,” as well as the concept of federalism. (prairiedogamicusbrief)

If Nevada is to have any control over any economic activity within its borders, which include numerous endangered and threatened species, it is vital that the high court reverse this Constitution-rendering exercise in legerdemain.

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Thomas Mitchell: Head spinning developments in the so-far ‘non-trial’ of Bunkerville defendants

Caution: Following the Bunkerville standoff trial proceedings can cause whiplash.

Today the federal judge again delayed the start of the trial for Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and self-styled militia member Ryan Payne. This time for a week. She agreed to hold hearings after Cliven Bundy’s attorney asked the charges be dropped because the prosecution had failed to reveal any recordings or notes taken off live surveillance video of the Bundy ranch during the April 2014 standoff. Ryan Bundy raised the question as to whether there was surveillance video several weeks ago.

“If it has potentially useful information, then the defense is entitled to it,” the judge is quoted by Reuters as saying. “I‘m not convinced that it doesn’t exist.”

The federal agents reportedly shredded documents after the standoff ended.

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Thomas Mitchell: A jury of their peers? Hardly

A federal jury is set to begin hearing opening statements Tuesday in the trial of four defendants in the Bunkerville standoff.

There are six women and six men on the jury and there are four alternates, three men, and a woman.

The judge said the trial is expected to take four months. A number of potential jurors were dismissed because they could not take four months out of their lives to devote to the trial. How many people can or are willing to? Is it a jury of their peers?

On trial is rancher Cliven Bundy, 71, sons Ammon Bundy, 42, and Ryan Bundy, 45, and a self-styled militia member Ryan Payne, 34, who showed up to protest the confiscation of Bundy’s cattle by the BLM. They are charged with conspiracy, extortion and various firearm charges. They have all been jailed for going on two years.

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Thomas Mitchell Newspaper column: Bill would limit power to create national monuments

The House Committee on Natural Resources this past week approved a bill sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop to rein in the powers granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allow a president to unilaterally create huge national monuments.

The bill advanced on a party line vote of 27-13, with Democrats in opposition.

The bill, H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, amends the Antiquities Act to limit the size of future monuments and specifically grants the sitting president the power to reduce the size of existing monuments — a power Democrats have argued President Trump does not have under current law.

During his administration President Obama created 26 national monuments totaling more than 500 million acres — including the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument on the border of Lincoln and Nye counties and the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County.

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Newspaper column Thomas Mitchell : Zinke’s national monument modifications too modest

Frankly, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s memo to President Trump recommending modifications to a few national monuments — including the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County — is far too modest, but it has the Democratic contingent of Nevada’s Washington delegation squealing like a pig stuck under a gate.

Zinke recommended unspecified changes to the Gold Butte boundaries but totally ignored the massive 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument that straddles the border between Nye and Lincoln counties, even though members of the Congressional Western Caucus recommended reducing it to 2,500 acres — “the smallest area compatible,” as the law says, to protect the Indian petroglyphs there.

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Thomas Mitchell: Zinke recommendation to reduce Gold Butte Monument size met with usual blather

by Thomas Mitchel September 20, 2017 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s memo to President Trump recommending an unspecified reduction in size of several recently created national monuments — including the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in Clark County — has sent the […]

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Editorial: A day worthy of celebrating: Constitution Day

This Sunday, Sept. 17, marks the anniversary of one of the most propitious days in the history of this country. On that day in 1787, the representatives at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. It was ratified by the states and went into effect on March 4, 1789.

You remember the Constitution don’t you?

That’s the document that says the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed …” Not waive, delay or ignore parts of laws the president doesn’t like, such as immigration laws, which the Constitution says: “The Congress shall have Power To … establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization …”

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Thomas Mitchell Editorial: Learn from the mistakes of the past, not erase them

This paroxysm of efforts to eradicate all monuments and place names that memorialize historic leaders of the Confederacy serves as merely a distraction from real problems, wasting time and money that could be devoted to worthy endeavors.

The latest target of this futile campaign appears to be the name of Jeff Davis Peak in Great Basin National Park.

According to the park’s website, the monicker was first attached to what is now Wheeler Peak, the tallest point in the park and the second tallest in Nevada. It was given that name by Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe of U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1855 while Jefferson Davis served as secretary of the War Department, a half dozen years before the Civil War began.

After the Civil War, during which Davis served as president of the Confederacy, an Army mapping expedition headed by Lt. George Montague Wheeler, named the peak for Wheeler and the Jeff Davis tag was shifted to a shorter nearby peak.

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Editorial: Judge orders more studies for water grab

It is not too often a judge’s ruling is greeted by all sides as a victory, but that is what happened after federal Judge Andrew Gordon issued a 39-page opinion in the fight over the Clark County water agency’s bid to tap groundwater beneath White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties.

Judge Gordon said the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) could grant the right-of-way for a 300-mile network of pipelines across public land, but first, it has to address plans to mitigate the potential loss of wildlife habitat due to a draw down of the water table.

The suit was brought by White Pine County, the Great Basin Water Network (GBWN), several Indian tribes and environmental groups against the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) and the BLM.

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Thomas Mitchell: Time to release Bunkerville defendants on bail?

Whether you think the defendants in the Bunkerville standoff are a bunch of lunatic, dangerous gun-nuts who should be locked up and the key thrown away or upstanding patriots defending property and constitutional rights in the face of belligerent bureaucrats, it matters not what you think.
What matters is what jurors think.

So far jurors seem less than enthusiastic about embracing the pile of charges heaped on the first of the standoff defendants.

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