Same song, second verse: “It depends” is the standard lawyer’s response to most questions


Brad Klepper is busy helping drivers with legal issues this week. We hope you enjoy this “rerun” of the October 1, 2020 edition of The truck driver.

Like those of you who read my columns in The truck driver I already know, the answer to almost any question you ask a lawyer is – wait – “it depends”. In fact, I think I took “It depends 1” and “It also depends” (see what I did there) as part of my core law school program.

What I’m trying to make here is that the law is nuanced and there are very few clear rules.

This was really reported to me recently during a conversation with my wife. We were watching the news, which showed a video of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) forces in the city of Portland, Oregon.

My wife asked me what seems like a pretty straightforward question: “Can the federal government use federal forces in cities?” I took a deep breath, slowly poured myself a drink, then replied (you guess): “It depends.” My wife, fully expecting this answer, poured herself a glass of wine and made herself comfortable as she prepared for my lengthy explanation. (It was clearly not his first rodeo.)

I took a deep breath and started:

By establishing the federal government with limited powers, the Founding Fathers did not include a general federal police power in the US Constitution. This power is reserved for states under the 10th Amendment.

However, in certain situations, federal law gives the federal government the right to send federal forces. More specifically, this can happen to: (i) protect federal property, (ii) ensure that federal law is obeyed, and (iii) enforce federal court orders. It also allows the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to monitor compliance with federal voting laws, such as voter fraud and intimidation. For those of you who keep score at home, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Federal forces were used to intervene in the railway strikes of 1877 and 1894. Remember that? Neither do I.

Federal forces were also used to enforce federal judges’ desegregation orders in the 1950s. Additionally, federal forces were used to assist local police during the riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.

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