KTTH OPINION

Rantz: Sheriffs Constantine and Cole-Tindall dangerously usurping power on homelessness policy

Jul 1, 2024, 5:55 PM

King County sheriff homelessness...

King County Executive Dow Constantine speaking with King County Sherrif Patti Cole-Tindall (left) and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. (Photo courtesy of Washington State House Democrats)

(Photo courtesy of Washington State House Democrats)

King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, acting on the behest of her boss Executive Dow Constantine to the point that they’re effective co-sheriffs, is dangerously usurping the power of city leaders and their constituencies. Even after the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision in Johnson v. Grants Pass, Oregon, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) is refusing to enforce Burien’s anti-camping ordinance. They’re insisting the homelessness ordinance be rewritten, which is unquestionably not their prerogative.

SCOTUS unequivocally sided with a Grants Pass, Oregon anticamping law, declaring cities can choose these kinds of restrictions to tackle the many issues associated with sleeping outdoors, such as crime, disease spread, community blight and access to public and private property. Burien’s anticamping ordinance is similar, banning encampments within 500 feet of vulnerable populations like children in parks or schools and the elderly at senior centers.

Despite the clear directive from SCOTUS, Cole-Tindall and Constantine persist in their non-compliance, insisting on rewriting the ordinance.

“(The Johnson v. Grants Pass, Ore.) U.S. Supreme Court ruling does not change our current policy on enforcing the camping ban in Burien,” a KCSO statement read. “We will not arrest based on the change in this law until other issues are addressed, such as an ordinance which includes prohibited camping locations and more precision on the conduct prohibited in designated no-camping zones.”

Translation: Cole-Tindall and Constantine believe they have the right to revise the legislation they oppose. If they require specified camping locations, they merely need to request them. The prohibited conduct in no-camping zones is clearly defined — it’s camping. This isn’t complex, especially since KCSO itself labels it a “camping ban.” Meanwhile, homeless individuals are dying from drug overdoses who could otherwise be directed into treatment.

More from Jason Rantz: Sheriff’s homeless betrayal is why Dow Constantine appointed her

How are King County Sheriff and Executive usurping local power on homelessness ordinance?

Writing for the majority, SCOTUS Justice Neil Gorsuch called out “a handful of federal judges” for thinking they could match “the collective wisdom the American people possess in deciding” how to respond to “a pressing social question like homelessness.” This critique aptly applies to Cole-Tindall and Constantine, whose constitutional interpretation skills likely stem from binge-watching “Ally McBeal.”

King County Sheriff Cole-Tindall and co-Sheriff Constantine are bypassing their responsibilities by refusing to enforce a homelessness ordinance they disagree with, akin to the “constitutional sheriffs” whom Progressives previously criticized for imposing their personal ideologies over elected officials’ authority.

The county has taken Burien’s anti-camping ordinance to court, questioning its constitutionality despite possibly lacking standing in the case. Instead of awaiting a judicial decision, they’re presuming the ordinance’s unconstitutionality. Without a preliminary injunction to prevent the KCSO from enforcing the law, the county is violating its agreement with Burien, which includes upholding the city’s laws.

More troubling is their shifting argument. The KCSO’s lawsuit initially claimed deputies “cannot participate in the efforts” to displace encampments without offering shelter. SCOTUS disagrees, hence their evolving concerns.

More from Jason Rantz: Supreme Court’s Grants Pass ruling lets us finally ditch progressive homeless policies

King County dishonestly taking SCOTUS Grants Pass decision out of context

The KCSO claims that the SCOTUS Grants Pass decision supports their refusal to enforce Burien’s anti-camping ordinance, but they are clearly taking the SCOTUS majority opinion out of context.

“As noted by the Supreme Court, ‘the Constitution provides many additional limits on state prosecutorial power, promising fair notice of the laws,'” the statement reads.

Indeed, the Constitution does provide limits. But Cole-Tindall and Constantine cherrypicked a portion of a sentence written by Gorsuch to support King County leadership’s preferred (and failed) approach to addressing homelessness.

“For that matter, nothing in today’s decision prevents States, cities, and counties from going a step further and declining to criminalize public camping altogether. For its part, the Constitution provides many additional limits on state prosecutorial power, promising fair notice of the laws and equal treatment under them, forbidding selective prosecutions, and much more besides,” Gorsuch wrote.

This context clearly refers to local governing bodies, such as city or county councils or state legislatures. The omission of the first part of the excerpt is telling. Essentially, the County Council is free to pass legislation to halt certain types of enforcement, but the KCSO does not have the authority to make or interpret laws. The SCOTUS decision does not change that. In Burien’s case, the county does not have jurisdiction over what laws are or are not legislated there.

Where’s the local outrage with King County Sheriff overruling Burien on its homelessness strategy?

As is often the case, neither the local media nor county residents seem particularly concerned about the KCSO’s dramatic overreach. Media members and county residents outside of Burien are more likely to agree with the sentiment of our co-sheriffs, given their ideological leanings. But it would be a grave error in judgment to assume this won’t backfire.

It’s easy to tolerate government overreach when it aligns with your beliefs. Imagine if the county Executive and Sheriff were conservatives refusing to enforce local anti-gun ordinances or public health orders. Would the progressive media and county residents cheer this on? Would they pretend this is the prerogative of local law enforcement agencies? They would be outraged. And recent history proves this point.

The “constitutional sheriffs” movement, led by figures like Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer, claimed sheriffs hold ultimate authority within their jurisdictions, even surpassing federal and state powers. These sheriffs made headlines for refusing to enforce state gun laws and COVID mandates, asserting their right to interpret the Constitution as they saw fit.

Democrats decried this movement as a threat to democracy and the rule of law because they disagreed with the sheriffs. Now, they’re supporting similar actions — so long as their puppet sheriffs are in power. Fair enough. But are they prepared for conservative sheriffs in the state to play the same game?

Listen to “The Jason Rantz Show” on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

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Rantz: Sheriffs Constantine and Cole-Tindall dangerously usurping power on homelessness policy