Oregon lawmaker seeks to curb deputizing power of federal government

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB) and Jonathan Levinson (OPB)
Oct. 8, 2020 1:01 p.m. Updated: Oct. 8, 2020 11:28 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, plans to introduce legislation to curtail the deputation authority of the U.S. Marshals Service, after the agency insisted Portland Police remain federally deputized despite heated objections by local officials.

The law, called the Keep Law Enforcement Local Act, would clarify that a local government has the power to terminate the federally deputized status of local officers by withdrawing their consent.


The issue became a point of contention last week after the city of Portland asked the U.S. Department of Justice to end the deputation of 56 Portland police officers who had been federally deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service to police a far-right rally. Federal officials refused, saying the status needed to stay in place through the end of the year to protect local police. U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy Williams and U.S. Marshal for Oregon Russ Burger said the Portland officers were not being given enough support by City Hall.


The city has since said it considers the deputations invalid because it withdrew consent, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler instructed the officers to act as though they aren’t deputized. But as OPB previously reported, the conflict may have to be resolved by the courts. The federal Justice Department’s unusual decision to insist the deputations remain in effect means anyone arrested for assaulting or interfering with a deputized Portland police officer could face comparable federal charges.

Legal experts have said the federal government is effectively commandeering local law enforcement, something the U.S. Supreme Court has already said violates the 10th Amendment. Blumenauer’s legislation aims to codify who decides when a federal deputation ends.

“We don’t think they have the authority to basically commandeer local law enforcement or anybody else for months,” said Blumenauer in an interview with OPB. “We think it’s not legal. We think it’s bad policy. And we want to clarify this statutorily.”

Blumenauer said the legislation is needed to stop an incursion into local law enforcement by President Trump’s administration, which has frequently focused on protests for racial justice in Portland as a talking point for the president’s reelection campaign.

Blumenauer plans to introduce the bill in the U.S. House in the coming days, though he doesn’t expect it to pass until there’s a change in the political control of the U.S. Senate. The timeline means the bill will have little impact on the deputations taking place in Portland, but could potentially prevent the scenario from playing out in another city in the future.

“This is an administration that is wildly unpredictable, but they’re willing to exploit difficult situations for political gain," Blumenauer said. "And I think we need to work to try and put a stop to it.”