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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Reynolds offends the rule of law

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: July 24, 2022, 6:02am

It is simultaneously fascinating yet horrifying, like watching the slow-motion train wreck of society running over the rule of law, but being unable to look away.

Rey Reynolds, a longtime Vancouver Police Department officer, is running for Clark County sheriff. He wants to be the county’s top law-enforcement official — but enforce only laws he agrees with.

Oh, that might be a stretch. But Reynolds specifically says he will not enforce the elements of Initiative 1639 — a series of gun-control measures passed by 59 percent of statewide voters in 2018.

“If it is unjust, I will not enforce it,” he told The Columbian’s Editorial Board during an interview. At a previous candidate forum, he said: “Simply put, I will not enforce unconstitutional laws. Your Second Amendment rights are absolutely critical to me; 1639 is a major violation of your civil rights.”

The Columbian wrote about this in an editorial Thursday while endorsing David Shook and John Horch in the primary for sheriff. But the issue warrants further discussion as a head-shaking example of how increasing numbers of Americans are willing to ignore the rule of law under the cloak of self-defined righteousness.

Because during the aforementioned candidate forum, Reynolds’ declaration was greeted with wild applause. And the thought that so many people embrace authoritarianism at the expense of democracy is the horrifying part. It represents another tiny hammer strike at the base of our nation, at the checks and balances that have allowed us to construct a sturdy society.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s ask somebody who actually has a law degree — unlike myself and certainly unlike Rey Reynolds.

“I think law enforcement officers are not the arbiters of what laws are constitutional,” Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said. “Just like prosecutors are not the arbiters. The courts are.

“There have been laws passed by the Legislature, there are situations where the courts decide laws are unconstitutional. But our system is set up where the courts decide on it.”

In addition, there are practical implications. “Our office doesn’t have the ability to conduct investigations,” Golik said. “We rely on law enforcement. We could potentially have situations where we would have to ask other agencies to investigate.”

Of course, you do not need a law degree to figure out these basic facts. But Reynolds’ stance — and his defense of it — bring up some philosophical questions. That is the fascinating part.

In support of his position, Reynolds invokes the memories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Indeed, the civil rights pioneers took noble stands against injustice and the egregious laws of their time.

But King was a civilian community leader and Parks was a citizen. Fighting injustice as a private citizen is a courageous act; doing so as an elected law enforcement official is a dictatorial one. When those in power establish themselves as the sole referee in determining what is constitutional, we devolve into a totalitarian state.

That Reynolds would compare this issue to the righteousness of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks is not only absurd, it is frightening. And it brings up questions about what other laws he considers not worthy of his time, questions about a constitutional system that has served us well for more than 240 years, questions about the chipping away of our social structure.

We have reached a point where vast numbers of Americans believe that political violence is sometimes warranted. It is an unsustainable situation, and it is one that calls for particular care and attention to our checks and balances, to a system where lawmakers make laws, the courts determine whether those laws are constitutional, and officers enforce them.

The irony in all this is that the front page of Reynolds’ campaign website claims, “I will enforce the laws voted on by the citizens.” If elected, he might want to start with I-1639, regardless of his personal feelings. The only other options are horrifying.