The Attorney General of Virginia stepped into the fray yesterday with an opinion on the validity of Second Amendment Sanctuaries that have sprung up across the state in response to draconian gun control legislation. He said that the Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions have no legal force and that municipalities will have no choice but to enforce the unconstitutional laws, should the bill be turned into law in January.
But is this actually true? Or is it just a statement meant to discourage dissent? Digging into this, it seems that it's certainly not as cut and dried as the AG would have us all believe.
This article will be filled with lots of quotes from pertinent legal documents. I'm not an attorney so I'm just laying out my findings. The emphasis throughout is mine.
You can draw your own conclusions.
The Official Statement
Let's start out with what AG Mark Herring had to say.
The Virginia Constitution, the Code of Virginia, and established common law doctrines all bear on these questions.
First, the Constitution of Virginia provides that all local authority is subject to the control of the General Assembly. For example, Article V Il, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that "[t]he General Assembly shall provide by general law for the . powers . of counties, cities, towns, and regional governments."
Second, the Code of Virginia establishes the supremacy of state law over local ordinances and policies. Section 1-248 provides:
The Constitution and laws of the United States and of the Commonwealth shall be supreme. Any ordinance, resolution, bylaw, rule, regulation, or order of any governing body or any corporation, board, or number of persons shall not be inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States or of the Commonwealth.[)
As the Virginia Supreme Court has explained, because local authority is subordinate to state law, "local ordinances must conform to and not be in conflict with the public policy of the State as embodied in its statutes.
Third, established common law doctrines specifically limit the authority of local governments. Virginia follows the Dillon Rule, which provides that local governments may exercise "only those powers expressly granted by the General Assembly, those necessarily or fairly implied therefrom, and those that are essential and indispensable. The Dillon Rule is one of strict construction: "[I]f there is a reasonable doubt whether legislative power exists, the doubt must be resolved against the local governing body. Thus, when a Virginia locality seeks to take any action, the Dillon Rule applies "to determine in the first instance, from express words or by implication, whether a power exists at all. If a locality cannot identify a reasonably specific source of delegated authority, "the inquiry is at an end" and the act in question is unauthorized.
These constitutional, statutory, and common law doctrines establish that these resolutions neither have the force of law nor authorize localities or local constitutional officials to refuse to follow or decline to enforce gun violence prevention measures enacted by the General Assembly.
l . By their own terms, these resolutions have no legal effect. Although the resolutions typically contain several "Whereas" clauses, the "be it resolved" clauses generally do not purport to take any concrete action. 15 Instead, the operative clauses: (a) "express" the "intent" of the locality's Board of Supervisors "to uphold the Second Amendment rights of [the county's] citizens," (b) "express" the Board's "intent that public funds of the [clounty not be used to restrict the Second Amendment rights of the [county's] citizens," and (c) "declare" the Board's "intent to oppose" any "infringement" or "restrictions" of their residents' Second Amendment rights using "such legal means [as] may be expedient, including without limitation, court action. These general statements do not direct or require any specific result, and any suggestion of potential future action is entirely speculative.
It also bears emphasis that neither local governments nor local constitutional officers have the authority to declare state statutes unconstitutional or decline to follow them on that basis. "All actions of the General Assembly are presumed to be constitutional. Furthermore, it has long "been the indisputable and clear function of the courts, federal and state, to pass upon the constitutionality of legislative acts. It follows from these well-established principles that all localities and local constitutional officers are required to comply with all laws enacted by the General Assembly unless and until those laws are repealed by the legislature or invalidated by the judiciary.
Nor may localities or local constitutional officers decline to enforce laws enacted by the General Assembly on the theory that requiring them to do so would "commandeer" local resources. Although the United States Supreme Court has held that "the Federal Government may not compel the States to implement . . . federal regulatory programs, that doctrine derives from the specific limitations on Congress's legislative powers and the "residuary and inviolable sovereignty" retained by the states in our federal system. 25 In contrast, "the Constitution of Virginia is not a grant of legislative power to the General Assembly,„ 26 and, unlike Congress, [tlhe authority of the General Assembly shall extend to all subjects of legislation" not specifically "forbidden or restricted" by the State Constitution. 27 And neither the Federal Constitution nor Virginia law recognizes any "anti-commandeering" principle that allows localities or local constitutional officers to refuse to participate in the enforcement of state law.28
It is my opinion that these resolutions have no legal effect. It is my further opinion that localities and local constitutional officers cannot nullify state laws and must comply with gun violence prevention measures that the General Assembly may enact. (source)
You can read Herring's entire opinion and get the citations here.
What is the Dillon Rule?
This is a rule of government embraced by 39 states.
Dillon's Rule is derived from written decision by Judge John F. Dillon of Iowa in 1868. It is a cornerstone of American municipal law. It maintains that a political subdivision of a state is connected to the state as a child is connected to a parent. Dillon's Rule is used in interpreting state law when there is a question of whether or not a local government has a certain power. Dillon's Rule narrowly defines the power of local governments.
The first part of Dillon's Rule states that local governments have only three types of powers:
-those granted in express words,
-those necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers expressly granted, and
-those essential to the declared objects and purposes of the corporation, not simply convenient, but indispensable.
The second part of Dillon's Rule states that if there is any reasonable doubt whether a power has been conferred on a local government, then the power has NOT been conferred. This is the rule of strict construction of local government powers. (source)