Evans: Lessons about cracked legal theories from a misguided pots-n-pans salesman
March 31, 2022
Many years ago, I sat at the kitchen table of a pots-n-pans salesman from Pleasant Valley. We didn’t talk about cookware. He was laying out with lots of precision why the United States government had no legal basis for prosecuting him for willfully refusing to file federal income tax returns.
It was a lengthy conversation that day in the late 1970s. I will spare you many of the details. It is enough for you to know two things about his salesmanship:
First, it was his assertion that the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one creating the income tax in 1913, was unconstitutional – in part, because the amendment was never properly ratified because Ohio was not properly admitted to the Union until 1953.
Second, neither the U.S. district judge, nor the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, bought his analysis – and he ended up spending a year in federal prison.
This month, I found myself recalling the Iowa guy who was a cross between a kindly uncle and something of a crackpot. The trigger for my memories was news about two appearances in Sioux City by a lawyer from Florida with some, uhh, unconventional views of her own.
The world has changed significantly since the 1970s. Back then, while people grumbled about having to pay taxes, almost everyone did, and the Scott Countysalesman was a sideshow, someone who was a better cookware salesman than legal scholar.
But the appearances last week in Sioux City by attorney KrisAnne Hall of Florida come at a time when public opinion is not as polite as it was when I had coffee with the tax-protesting pan man.
Today, opinion polls show that most supporters of former president Donald Trump believe vote-counting conspiracies stole a second term from him – even though there never has been enough evidence to sway any state or federal court. A worrisome segment of the population hails as law-abiding patriots the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, threatening to hang the vice president and speaker of the House of Representatives.
That is why the decision by Woodbury County Sheriff Chad Sheehan to invite Hall to address a training event for his deputies and give a separate community presentation for other interested people is problematic, at best.
Educating law officers and the public about the rights accorded to people by the Constitution is a worthwhile undertaking by Sheriff Sheehan. But there are many lawyers who could make such a presentation – including Woodbury County Attorney Patrick Jennings or Mark Kende, director of Drake University’s Constitutional Law Center.
But neither Jennings nor Kende would deliver a message like Hall has given at events around the nation. That is why Sheehan’s judgment is being questioned by some of his constituents.
In one video Hall has online, she questions the authority of federal law enforcement officers to go outside the District of Columbia to investigate suspected participants in the Capitol riot.
“We are educating the sheriffs, and the sheriffs are starting to resist,” she says in the video. “They are starting to realize there is no jurisdiction for the federal government in their counties, and the sheriffs have the authority to tell the federal government, ‘No’.”
She goes on to make some hair-raising claims about the U.S. Capitol Police – those officers you saw during the Jan. 6 riot when they tried to protect the Capitol and the members of Congress inside.
She says in one of her videos, “They will be blind enforcers, like the S.S., just carrying out the bidding of the next tyrant that’s in office.”
A quick history lesson: The S.S. was Adolf Hitler’s security force in Nazi Germany during World War II.
Hall’s videos criticize government decisions to close some businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. She says sheriffs could assert their authority and refuse to allow such closings.
In other videos, she says the United States is “full-on Marxist” for trying to force people to get COVID-19 vaccinations.
Sheriff Sheehan said he learned about Hall when she spoke last year during the annual convention of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, the official member organization of the 99 county sheriffs.
He was contacted by another sheriff about holding the events in Sioux City. That sheriff, whom he has not identified, is working with a small group from eastern Iowa called We the People for Constitutional Sheriffs.
“I am in no way a person that’s above the law,” Sheehan told the county supervisors.
But at a time when it seems like people cannot disagree without going for each other’s throats, do we need the sheriff of one of Iowa’s largest counties lending his name and the credibility of his office to someone whose legal analyses rival those of a pots-n-pan salesman?
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and a former opinion page editor at the Des Moines Register. This peice first appeared on iowacapitaldispatch.com.