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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Iron County Commission Creates Constitutional Defense Council To Review Federal And State Mandates

Two story government building with flag pole and American flag.
BOB WESTON/Getty Images
Iron County's new Constitutional Defense Council will advise the county commission on the constitutionality of state and federal laws.

The Iron County Commission passed an ordinance Monday to create a “Constitutional Defense Council.” The council will advise the commision on the constitutionality of federal mandates. It stems from concerns about laws related to gun control at the federal level.

Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens said it will offer local leaders a chance to review executive actions.

“The commission can work with our sheriff and county attorney in a public and transparent way to determine our legal footing, the harm our residents may face due to outside orders and whether we can or should pursue litigation, nonenforcement or another path,” he said.

The Utah state legislature passed a similar bill to challenge federal orders.

But Iron County’s council would also advise the commission on state mandates. Sheriff Ken Carpenter said this ordinance is meant to further protect residents from some state legislation.

“Even though our state is generally still very conservative, there's been some very liberal legislation that has been introduced, especially over this past year,” he said. “Our constituents want to know that the state isn't going to trample on their constitutional rights any more than the federal government is.”

Carpenter said in November he would not enforce the statewide mask mandate. In a Facebook post at the time, he said the people of Iron County “do the right things for the right reasons without being compelled by government mandates.”

Justin Collings, a law professor at Brigham Young University, said it’s not within the county’s power to declare laws unconstitutional.

“Iron County can challenge the law's constitutionality in court, just as any citizen can,” Collings said. “They can initiate litigation if they want, but there's no binding effect to a declaration of that sort.”

Collings said a 1997 Supreme Court decision ruled that local governments are not obligated to enforce federal law.

“I think it’s largely a political gesture to say this is our understanding of the Constitution,” he said. “This is our declaration of local autonomy and the statement of local values. It doesn't have any legal effect.”

The county commission approved the council unanimously. It’s made up of the three commissioners, the county attorney and the sheriff.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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