Why Jurisdictions Matter
Published on November 17, 2021
why jurisdictions matter

Imagine you’re having lunch at a local sandwich shop.  The County Sheriff walks in and orders a sandwich.  He proceeds to eat his lunch among the other customers.  However, when it is time to leave, he tells the cashier, “There is no charge for my lunch…  You see, I am the County Sheriff.  Since I am the authority in this county, there will be no charge for my sandwich.”  How would you feel?  Is he correct?  I mean, after all, he is a legitimate authority in the county.  Romans 13 says we should submit to the authorities.  But still, something doesn’t seem right here.  What is it? 

The Sheriff is a legitimate authority.  If he is having lunch and some kind of a crime situation breaks out, nobody would question him immediately taking action to stop the crime and arrest or even use appropriate level of force as needed to stop the crime.  If the Sheriff pulled you over on the way to lunch and asked you whether you stopped at the stop sign, you had better answer his questions!  However, he has no authority to demand a free sandwich. 

Does it Matter?

The term used to describe the proper boundaries of an official’s authority and where it starts or stops is called jurisdiction.  The Sheriff has jurisdiction to stop a crime, or to investigate whether you broke the law.  However, to require a sandwich shop to give him free food is outside of his jurisdiction.  If the Sheriff used his position to demand free food, it would be an abuse of his position and he would be operating outside his proper jurisdiction.  He would be, in fact, a criminal, and guilty of theft. Yes, it matters.

Would it be any better if our fictional Sheriff were to come into our homes and tell parents how to raise their children?  Would it be less offensive if he came into our churches to tell the Pastor what parts of the Bible he could or could not preach from?  No, these scenarios would evoke similar emotions, and for good reason!  Any example in things like this would clearly show there are lines where the Sheriff has proper authority on one side of the line – and on the other side of the line, he does not.  Should the Christian reader have a Biblical requirement to honor these excursions by our Sheriff into areas outside his jurisdiction, based on Scriptures like Romans 13?  I think everything in each of us cries out “NO”.  These are areas where he has no authority.  He has no jurisdiction.  These are areas outside his legitimate role, and are therefore not protected by the Biblical requirement for submission to authority.  He has no authority in these areas because he is outside his jurisdiction. 

Definition of jurisdiction

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary offers several definitions of the word “Jurisdiction” that may be helpful:

-The legal power of authority of doing justice in cases of complaint; the power of executing the laws and distributing justice.

-Power of governing or legislating.

-The power or right of exercising authority.

-The limit within which power may be exercised.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

The founders of our nation understood jurisdiction.  Read through the Declaration of Independence and you will see where they outline specific ways in which King George III had abused his authority and went outside his proper jurisdiction.  After listing all the infractions, they concluded the King was a tyrant and, “Unfit to be the ruler of a free people”.  A tyrant is someone who seeks to exert authority in areas that are outside his or her proper jurisdiction.  The Sheriff in our example who demanded free food is a thief.  He could also be properly called a tyrant.  I am afraid Americans have lost their understanding of what tyranny is and what it means to operate within proper jurisdiction. 

Everyone in public office today is sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, which defines very limited roles for officials.  Yet, many of these officials, like the Sheriff in our example, exert control over areas well beyond their rightful jurisdiction.  They think that just because they hold a position of responsibility, they should not be limited to the defined boundaries of the powers of their office.  As Americans, we have to learn the way our government is supposed to work.  We need to know the defined, proper role of government, as found in the Constitution, so we can hold all of our officials accountable to their oath and make sure they stay within the limits of the role they are acting in. 

The Bottom Line

Our Constitution created a government with strict limits on powers, because our founders knew people naturally tend to abuse power.  Thomas Jefferson said, “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”  Americans must know the Constitutionally defined limits of legitimate government power and hold their officials accountable to staying within those boundaries.  Our Constitution is an “Express Powers” document.  That means each branch of government is limited to those powers that are specifically listed, or enumerated, in the Constitution.  If something is not specifically listed among the enumerated powers of the government, then it is outside the proper jurisdiction of the federal government.  In future posts, we will examine the specific, “Enumerated Powers” of Congress, the President, and the Judiciary.  Then we will better know when they are attempting to take a sandwich to which they have no right! 

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  1. Tom Shumaker

    Rank has its privileges was a bogus concept in the military but we saw examples of it from a small scale to gigantic ripoffs. Sometimes they get held to account and could lead to nonjudicial punishment or even court martial. We need to use the Constitution to “court martial” more of our self important potentates who think they are above the law or deserving of taxpayer paid perks. Examples abound in our Congresscritters and Federal employees.

    • Jason Southerland

      All of our officials are sworn to support the Constitution of the United States. So, yes I agree we should hold them accountable to their oath and get rid of them if they aren’t doing what they swore to do! Thank you for the comment!

  2. Glenn Curlett

    Tom Shumaker has a great reply to your blog. Because of my military experiences, I identify with his example. This pairing of the two groups, military and government, I am left with a deeper impression of our current state of affairs. The train is off the tracks, the boat is out of the water, this airplane will not fly. May we learn and share the knowledge of the birth of the United States of America. Let us be united in prayer, together, that our Country finds its way back to Godly Principles. Our forefathers were blessed in construction of our Constitution with a dependence on our Creator. Let us live by what glorifies the Kingdom of God. Repentance!

    • Jason Southerland

      Amen Glenn! Thank you for the comment. I couldn’t agree more. We need to humble ourselves, repent, and turn from our wicked ways back to God.

  3. Lela Goar

    Washington D.C. is completely out of control with what they are allowed to do and what they aren’t. Just like when they utilize the DOJ and FBI to do their bidding when someone is not agreeing with them. I am amazed at the size of our government and the lack of ever getting anything done from so many people. They talk a good talk, but that is all it is. I think there are a lot of departments in our government that need to be shut down, i.e. education, EPA, energy, etc. No wonder we are in so much debt and they just want to keep spending money we don’t have.

    • Jason Southerland

      Yes, I think we, as Americans, need to hold our government officials to the enumerated powers listed in the Constitution. If it isn’t in there (like the departments you mention), then we either need to get rid of it, or if Americans really want the federal government involved, then it would require a Constitutional amendment to make it right, to give the federal government new authority (like they did with the 18th when Americans wanted the feds to have authority for prohibition). Thank you for the comment!

  4. Scott Newquist

    For the US congress to pass laws without their specific intend and to rely on the governmental departments to discern their meaning through copious number of rules and regulations is irresponsible and at time, and probable most the time, outside their jurisdiction. This improper way that regulations have and are being developed has gone on for so long that it has become the norm and it appear that we never look to see is these regulations are actually constitutional. You have to ponder how are legislators have become so rogue and what appears at times to be out of control and forget the oath that they took to the constitution of the United States.

    • Jason Southerland

      Yes, I agree. Article 1, Section 1, the first line of the Constitution after the preamble, and the first line that has force of law says, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…” So the power to make law was given to Congress. Now what they do is Congress creates an agency, or passes a law that grants broad authority to the agency, and then it goes off and passes regulations that hold the force of law… I agree – this is outside of their jurisdiction! Most of those agencies are not found in the Constitution at all, and Congress can’t just cede its Constitutional responsibility to an agency anyway. They are the only one with law making authority. We need to fix this – which in my mind, means either getting rid of unConstitutional agencies, or pass a Constitutional Amendment to authorize them (If it is something Americans want government doing). Thank you for the comment!

  5. Cathy Morris

    “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”
    Like the lines on a football field define the boundaries the players must know to participate legally in football, so our elected officials have specified lines as well.

    • Jason Southerland

      Great example! Did you get that from class? 🙂 Yes, our officials swear to support the Constitution when they take office. Those proper Constitutional roles have limits – and they are bound to abide within those limits! Thank you for your comment!


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