Governor says Iron County Commission needs to go to court if it wants to defy his orders

ST. GEORGE — If a panel being formed by the Iron County Commission decides that an order from Utah’s governor is unconstitutional, they will need to go to court if they don’t want to follow it.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 11, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox’s Facebook page, St. George News

Gov. Spencer Cox. responded to the move made by the Iron County board earlier this week to create a panel that will review orders by Utah’s governor as well as the U.S. president and determine if they are Constitutional, then determine if such orders would be followed in Iron County. During the taping of PBS Utah’s “Governor’s Monthly News Conference” on Thursday, Cox said Iron County lawmakers can’t just decide on their own if they will follow the orders of the governor. 

“That’s not how it works. We are a rule of law country,” Cox said in response to a question from Cedar City News. “Whenever we think someone does something unconstitutionally, we have a system … we have the courts.”

In response, Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens, who authored the Iron County ordinance, told Cedar City News that the Iron County measure takes that system to a county-appointed panel with meetings open to the public before it moves on to the courts.

“We understand the governor was on the spot and hasn’t likely reviewed our ordinance, but what we passed isn’t at all like the other sanctuary resolutions we see around the country,” Cozzens said. “We recognize that we are a nation and state of laws, and our ordinance simply takes that legal process that the governor discussed and moves it into the light in a public and transparent manner.”

Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens speaks at Senior Center grand reopening, Cedar City, Utah, March 20, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards. St. George News / Cedar City News

The panel will consist of the three Iron County Commissioners, the Iron County Attorney and the Iron County Sheriff. 

“This is about forming a recommending body to look at edicts that come down,” Cozzens said, who equates it to being like a planning commission. “For example, as a county we may chose not to enforce the mask mandate.”

Cox addressed how the Iron County ordinance is different from the Executive Order Review Process Amendments, HB 415, passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor last month. That measure allows the state to review executive orders from the U.S. president and decide if they will be followed in the state.

Cox said it comes down to what he said was the U.S. Constitution and the nation being formed with a system of separate state governments being the main source of power able to have the ultimate say above the federal government on most matters as well as city and county governments.

“That derives from the state. It doesn’t belong to cities and counties, it belongs to the states. In our nation, that belongs to the states,” Cox said. “Individual people can’t just decide what’s Constitutional or not. I’m not perfect but at a local level we have a system for resolution: The courts.”

For his part, Cozzens said he thinks the Iron County ordinance will hold up much better than other sanctuary resolutions that other cities have issued

“We may off the recommendation ultimately decide if this is what we want as a commission. If we don’t, we can make a decision to go to court,” Cozzens said. “We are encouraged by the comments we have received from legal advisers and from other county commissioners in the state that are concerned about executive overreach and want to implement similar review processes to determine the best and most effective ways to protect our civil liberties from political pressure, especially in times of emergency.”

St. George News reporter Jeff Richards contributed to this story.

Updated 10:30 p.m., April 15, 2021: Additional comments and clarification from Cozzens.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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