Yes, I’ll say it: Sovereign citizens are cuckoo for cocoa puffs. They believe the U.S. government became a corporation and lost jurisdiction over its citizens in 1933 when the gold standard was dropped. As a result, every U.S. citizen is now his or her own “sovereign”. A sovereign citizen has to make a contract with that corporation – one governed by admiralty or maritime law – to grant the government any jurisdiction over their person. And since a sovereign citizen has made no such contract, no court orders apply to them.
It’s all so ridiculous. But what’s worse, some sovereign citizens have violently resisted the jurisdiction of law enforcement officials enforcing court judgments, serving arrest warrants, and making traffic stops. The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the sovereign citizen movement as one of the most violent extremist groups in the country. While the Department of Homeland Security reports that most sovereign citizens are peaceful, they’ve also decided there’s more than enough reason to keep an eye on them.
Sovereign citizens are a problem for pro se litigants because no lawyer will risk his or her reputation (or worse, a disciplinary proceeding) by representing them, and here’s why: The basis for all property rights in the United States is a land dispute case, Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823). Johnson had bought land from a native tribe and McIntosh later bought the same land from the U.S. Congress. The Supreme Court ruled that no U.S. court could recognize the power of Indian tribes to sell land because it all belonged to the United States by dint of European conquest. And so regardless of the facts or the natural law, the court was required to quiet title to the property in favor of the party who’d bought it from the United States.
By the same token, no court of the United States can hear an argument that a U.S. citizen is sovereign — that a contract with the government is required to grant jurisdiction — even if that position had any basis in natural law. So sovereign citizens may as well quit with the nonsense.
That’s not going to happen soon. These are folks who print their own passports and stamp their own license plates, for goodness sake. Beyond that silliness, sovereign citizens in court make all pro se litigants look silly. They’ve been guilty of everything from filing fraudulent tax returns to filing false liens against judges and prosecutors. They’ve ignored court orders to stop filing repetitive motions on the same issues using the same bad arguments. They’ve based legal positions on ancient cases that had been overturned by constitutional amendment and hadn’t been precedent for centuries.
I suspect many of these poor souls insist on asserting their sovereignty in court as a matter of principle, despite the lack of legal merit. But since they claim the courts lack jurisdiction, I wish they’d take their principles a bit further and just stay out of the courthouse completely. When they have to appear, they ought to at least bring some recognized law.