WSJ Editorial on Bundy Verdict

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Wall Street Journal Editorial

The U.S. presidential election this year has produced an “October Surprise” every few days, so why shouldn’t the rest of the country get in on the festivities. One such shocker emerged from Oregon late last week, as a federal jury failed to convict the Bundy brothers on federal conspiracy charges.

The Bundys and some companions transfixed the nation last winter after they took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon’s Harney County. Prosecutors and many other commentators thought a conviction was a “slam dunk.” It’s well known that slam dunks sometimes ricochet embarrassingly off the back rim, which is what happened here.

The Bundys’ defenders have declared the verdict a victory for their long-running battle with the federal government over land-use policies, which they and others argue are too restrictive and oppressive of private ownership rights. These columns have editorialized on these disputes for years, and we sympathize with landowners in the West who have to contend with the feds’ bureaucratic overreach on land issues.

But it’s probably an overstatement to claim that a federal jury in Oregon has ratified the armed occupation of a federal facility. In an email to the Oregonian newspaper, one of the jurors said the verdict mainly was against the federal prosecutors, who built their case around a main charge of conspiracy against Ryan and Ammon Bundy. The juror said the prosecutors simply failed to prove conspiracy, but that their decision did not mean the Bundys were innocent.

We take the jury’s reasoning as a glimmer of hope that the possibility of nuanced distinctions still exist in environments such as the one that turned the Malhuer takeover into a battle of unresolvable extremes.

If there is an interest in not letting these disputes reach the level of an armed seizure of a federal facility—and there is—then someone in Washington, D.C., had better recognize that the government’s administration of Western land could use less arrogance and more prudence.