By Ben Olson
Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler sent a letter to Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Thursday, April 2 claiming the governor’s stay-at-home order issued March 25 violates the Constitution.
In his letter, Wheeler cited another letter making the rounds in social media from a businessman named Alfie Oakes in Florida claiming the coronavirus has been blown out of proportion by media “fear-mongering” and that there was a fear of a “takeover of our great country by the Globalists (a.k.a. New World Order).”
Oakes also questioned in his letter the reliability of the information disseminated by the World Health Organization and public health professionals.
“In the spirit of changing the course, I am urging you to call up the full Idaho Legislature and assemble them for an emergency meeting in Boise to discuss these points,” Wheeler wrote. “I do not believe that suspending the Constitution was wise, because Covid-19 is nothing like the Plague. We were misled by some Public Health Officials, and now it is time to reinstate our Constitution.”
Gov. Little’s stay-at-home order issued March 25 required citizens to self-isolate at home, not just if sick. The order excludes healthcare, public safety and other essential workers as defined in the order.
Wheeler did not immediately respond to requests for comments on his letter. He is currently running unopposed in the May primary for Bonner County Sheriff, seeking his fourth term in office.
Wheeler claims in his letter that the governor’s order violates the Constitution, and urged the governor to change his course.
“In the spirit of liberty and the Constitution, you can request those that are sick to stay home, but at the same time, you must release the rest of us to go with our normal business,” Wheeler wrote.
At the time of this writing, over 1 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus has been reported worldwide, with over 5,000 deaths attributed to the COVID-19 virus – Idaho has reported 891 cases across 31 counties statewide, 222 of which cases were reported just on April 2 alone. To date 9 deaths have been attributed to the COVID-19 virus in the state. Bonner County reported its first case of the COVID-19 virus on March 29.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden issued a statement in response to Wheeler’s letter: “Governor Little’s stay-at-home order is well within the constitutional and statutory boundaries for such an order,” Wasden wrote. “The law in this area is clearly defined. I have no problems with providing a legal defense of the governor’s order and stand ready to do so should the need arise.”
The Idaho Attorney General’s office stated on its website that Little’s order is clearly defined in Idaho law.
“The Governor is the Commander of the Militia under Article IV, § 4 and Supreme Executive Power is vested within the Governor under Article IV, § 5 of the Idaho Constitution,” the AG wrote. “The authority to issue orders such as the Stay at Home Order is found within Chapter 6, Title 46 of the Idaho Code. Additional authority is found within Chapter 10, Title 46. The specific statutes granting the Governor authority to issue such an order are Idaho Code § 46-601 and Idaho Code § 46-1008. It is important to note that both the Director of the Department of Health and Welfare and local public health districts have authority to issue orders of quarantine and isolation.”
Furthermore, the Idaho AG’s office pointed to a recent case brought before a court in New Hampshire where plaintiffs requested an “emergency and permanent injunction” on New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu’s emergency declaration to render it “advisory rather than mandatory,” arguing that the governor “does not have the authority” to issue such an “unconstitutional” order.
The judge ruled to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the governor’s order was “enforceable, and it is constitutional.”
Wheeler’s call to assemble the full Idaho Legislative body during a worldwide health pandemic caused some to question the timing and reasoning behind the request.
Among the more than 850 comments posted on the Bonner County Sheriff’s Facebook page in response to Wheeler’s letter, Rosemary Levernier Yocum wrote, “Sheriff Wheeler, please do not send this letter to the governor. We are battling a pandemic here, not trying to spread the virus around by calling the stay-at-home order unconstitutional.”
Patrick Ream urged the Sheriff to “… stop playing politics, abusing the platform of your office and worry about your daily duties. If you want to write this letter as a private citizen so be it. If there was concern about this being unconstitutional the Attorney General should be taking this up not you.”
Many others applauded the Sheriff for his letter.
“You are the first law enforcement official that I have come across that appears to have an understanding of the truth of this situation and what’s really going on,” wrote Mike Targett.
Wheeler also cited the fact that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “changed his state’s course” by signing an executive order giving churches the right to assemble. Many churches around the nation have switched to online services to implement CDC guidelines, providing a safe atmosphere for worshipers to congregate virtually during the pandemic.
To that point, Stacie Ann wrote on Facebook, “I haven’t missed a single Sunday of church services and haven’t stepped foot in the church I attend. A lot of churches are going to online which I actually enjoy.”
Local health officials also pushed back on Wheeler’s letter.
“We will continue to follow CDC guidance and guidance placed by our Governor,” said Panhandle Health District public information officer Katherine Hoyer when asked for comment on Wheeler’s letter. “We continue to urge everyone to stay home as much as possible to protect everyone in our community, especially those who are most at-risk of suffering from severe illness. We know that social distancing and staying home can slow the spread of this virus; it takes everyone’s participation for these tactics to work.”
Bonner General Health Medical Chief of Staff Dr. Morgan Morton issued a statement supporting Gov. Little’s order.
“Calling the legislature into session at this time will only put the legislators and the state of Idaho at risk,” Morgan wrote. “…We strongly encourage the public to heed our advice to protect yourself, your family, and your community. … If we let down our guard prematurely, the sacrifices of the past two weeks will have been for naught.”
The Bonner County Board of Commissioners released a statement April 3 in response to Sheriff Wheeler’s letter, claiming that “It’s imperative that we all have the freedom to express our thoughts and ideas and that expression is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Sheriff’s letter is the kind of suggestion that the Governor welcomes, just as he welcomes ideas and opinions from all citizens of Idaho. The Sheriff’s letter does not have the force of law and again, is strictly his opinion.”
The Board of Commissioners claimed “Any question regarding Constitutionality should be considered, but will most likely not be until long after this is all behind us.”
Commissioner Dan McDonald responded to the Reader via email that Sheriff Wheeler “is an elected official however his opinion does not have the force of law. His job is to enforce the law, not create it. The Commissioners had no idea he was putting this opinion out but again, he’s an elected official and he has the right to make statements.”
McDonald concluded that “…the County will continue to follow the Governor’s order to the letter.”
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard has also pushed back against Little’s order, recently calling it “unconstitutional, un-American and NOT the Idaho way” in a legislative update emailed to constituents. Scott urged Idahoans to “Stand firm on your God-given rights and exercise your authority as a citizen and push back on unconstitutional edicts that would control every aspect of your life.”
Rep. Scott did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Of the more than 850 comments on the page, a majority seemed to disagree with Wheeler’s letter, especially as the coronavirus outbreak is expected to reach its peak in the coming weeks. Some, like Todd Liken-Savage said that while he supports Sheriff Wheeler and would vote to reelect him, he does not support Wheeler’s letter.
“If everyone obeyed the Shelter in Place we would be getting thr[ough] this, but I think we are in for a very bad outcome,” Savage wrote “… Let’s all just agree to take care of our families and stay at home and get through this quickly. Left or Right or Libertarian, we are all in this together, let’s act that way.”
Jamie Watkins-McCormick summed it up on Wheeler’s post: “Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, with all due respect, what an incredibly uneducated and stupid thing to say. How embarrassing for you and the people you represent.”
This story has been updated to include comments from elected officials who were not able to reply immediately.
While we have you ...
... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.
You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal