Wyoming’s Sergeant Schultz Act


Wyoming calls it the Data Trespass Bill. But it sounds more like the Sergeant Schultz Act: You will know nothing, see nothing, and hear nothing! Via Charlie Pierce, this mind-bite from Think Progress:

Passed by the Wyoming state government and signed into law by Gov. Matt Mead (R) in March, the law makes it illegal to “collect resource data” from any land outside of city boundaries, whether that land be private, public, or federal. Under to the law, “collect” means to “take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.”

Pierce writes:

That last provision is just bizarre. Clearly, it’s meant to punish anyone who submits photographic proof of environmental damage to the responsible federal authorities. It is nullification by a thousand cuts — make it illegal to cooperate with The Government in protecting yourself from being poisoned. The Invisible Hand’s second career as a proctologist is going quite well.

See, ranchers are peeved that groups like the Western Watersheds Project have reported E. coli in Wyoming streams, according to Justin Pidot, an assistant professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “The theory for most of the ranchers is, ‘You were near my land once, so you must have trespassed.’” Pidot writes:

Anyone with a passing familiarity with our Constitution will recognize that the Wyoming law is unconstitutional. It runs afoul of the supremacy clause because it interferes with the purposes of federal environmental statutes by making it impossible for citizens to collect the information necessary to bring an enforcement lawsuit. The Wyoming law also violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech because it singles out speech about natural resources for burdensome regulation and makes it a crime to engage in a variety of expressive and artistic activities. And finally, it specifically criminalizes public engagement with federal and state agencies and therefore violates another right guaranteed by the First Amendment: the right to petition the government.

Ostensibly, this bill and similar ones are about trespassing. Yet as Pidot observes, the strategy itself is a trespass. As with many other laws targeting women’s rights to voting rights, this is conservatives’ game plan: Find the legal line. Step over it. Dare someone to push them back. If they don’t get pushed back, they’ve established a new normal. Do it on enough fronts at once, and opponents won’t have the resources to push back on all of them. It’s how you erode freedom in freedom’s name. While waving a flag. Clutching your pocket Constitution. Brandishing a gun. And singing Lee Greenwood.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Environment, National

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