SOVEREIGN CITIZENS: SITTING ON THE DOCKET ALL DAY, WASTING TIME
By: Calvin Lee, Volume 106 Staff Member
Sovereign Citizens: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. The once-isolated political sect has ballooned to over 300,000 followers, and the rapid proliferation of their pseudo-legal ideologies is severely compromising court efficiency. Sovereign Citizens’ abject refusal to stipulate to even the most basic tenets of the established legal system has resulted in a “paper war,” in which courts are bombarded with legally baseless filings and motions, causing general chaos, confusion for legal professionals, and never-ending delays.
I. Sovereign Citizens: Who Are They?
The Sovereign Citizen movement originally emanated as an offshoot of far-right political groups such as Posse Comitatus in the early 1970’s. While Sovereigns have generally moved away from the racist and antisemitic views that originally defined the group, a belief that has never wavered is that the American Government comprises an illegal operation. The hill Sovereigns have chosen to die on is that America’s laws do not apply to them, and consequently American courts have no jurisdiction over them.
However, one of the most difficult aspects in dealing with Sovereign Citizens from a legal perspective is that, aside from this core principle, it is almost impossible to pin down an individual Sovereign’s beliefs to any established doctrine. This is because Sovereign Citizens are decentralized, with specific methodologies and beliefs governed by local gurus and influencers, as opposed to universal sources of truth. Thus, even if a court knows in advance that they are contending with a Sovereign, they will likely not know if the individual is a traditional Sovereign, an admiralty-maritime Sovereign, a quantum grammar Sovereign, or even one of the many derivative Sovereign groups such as Moorish Americans. Sovereigns are truly the Baskin Robbins of political movements, with their many flavors complicating the task for opposing counsel to conduct progressive discussions with Sovereigns concerning pending legal matters. The grossly disparate nature of the two groups’ practices and world views means that they might as well be (and often actually are) speaking different languages. This practice of talking past each other often causes court proceedings to come screeching to a halt.
II. A Crime of Opportunity: Sovereign Citizen Recruitment
If the radical beliefs that originally defined Sovereign Citizens have faded, what contemporary forces perpetuate the group’s existence? Evidence suggests that Sovereigns have successfully capitalized on political and economic trends in order to catalyze their movement’s growth. For example, the wake of the COVID epidemic gave rise to contentious disagreements regarding the necessity and extent of various venue restrictions, as well as mask and vaccine mandates. The imposition of governmental restrictions led many on the far-right to utilize Sovereign Citizen ideology to justify their anti-mask and anti-vaccine positions, both publicly and in court filings. The resulting fusion between the Sovereign Citizen and anti-vax movements bolstered Sovereign numbers throughout the country. Additionally, it is hardly surprising that the growing inclination for some political groups to jump aboard the Sovereign bandwagon has coincided with a significant decline in public trust of the judicial system. A natural consequence of the eroding confidence in America’s judicial establishment is that any belief system that challenges the scrutinized legal system instantly becomes more appealing, even a system as drastic as the one advanced by Sovereign Citizens.
Another profitable recruitment tactic for Sovereign gurus is exploiting the disenfranchised and the desperate. Just as many get rich quick schemes or multilevel marketing brands form a trap for the unwary, local Sovereign leaders have seduced new members through the peddling of quick-fix solutions to legal problems. This tactic is especially effective in persuading individuals with impending financial difficulties such as rent arrearage or foreclosures, as the dire nature of their situation provides the impetus to search for a magic pill not provided under traditional law. Because America has never experienced a shortage of the financially troubled or those disillusioned with the traditional legal system, Sovereign leaders are not limited to recruiting political extremists, and instead have an inexhaustible pool of potential customers. Customers being the operative term, as siphoning the “legal knowledge” of local gurus usually requires the purchase of packets of template filings, scripts to recite at court appearances, or for the extremely unfortunate, a representation by the Sovereign leader on their behalf.Thus, America’s economic loss is the Sovereign leader’s financial gain.
III. Verbal Vomit and Motion Mountain: The Court Tactics of a Sovereign Citizen
Understanding the Sovereign Citizen’s origin story helps to contextualize their superpowered ability to decelerate legal actions. For although Sovereign Citizens come in countless varieties, their various legal practices can all be boiled down to a common strategy: a war of attrition. The precise methodology employed by Sovereign Citizens is best explored through illustrative case studies. The currently pending Nevada criminal case against Kim Blandino exemplifies the practical burdens of the paper war. In 2019, Blandino was charged with extortion and impersonation of an officer after allegedly threatening a sitting judge. Since that time, Blandino has filed motions to stay the proceedings, competency motions, and several additional motions seeking to disqualify almost every judge in the district. These motions have required multiple reviews by both the Nevada district and appellate courts, as well as countless hours of court hearings pursuant to the motions. This has led to the case failing to reach a final disposition almost three years down the line. Blandino’s tactics are commonplace for Sovereign Citizen defendants, even for those charged with the most trivial of civil infractions. Summiting these mountains of filings is a daunting proposition for any court.
The burdens Sovereigns place on court time is not limited to their “motion practice” antics. If and when a court manages to negotiate Sovereign litigants’ plethoric filings to hold an actual hearing, the unfortunate presiding judge can expect a barrage of outlandish pseudo legalese, often from agitated individuals. Additionally exacerbating is the fact that many hearings involving Sovereigns take place in traffic court, where Sovereign Citizens attempt to defeat their (often relatively inconsequential) citations with arguments such as claiming that they were “traveling, not driving,” “funky Corpus Delicti,” and of course, old reliable, lack of jurisdiction. These baseless contentions force judges to engage in a maddeningly tedious and circuitous back-and-forth with the Sovereign, leading a proceeding that would ordinarily take a few minutes to extend at nauseam, further displacing already tight dockets.
IV. Stop the Presses: Combatting Sovereigns’ Paper War
The million-dollar question concerns how courts should deal with the disruptive ploys of Sovereign Citizens. A reflexive answer to the Sovereign Citizen problem is to rely on old-fashioned, retributive justice in the form of elevated fines or sanctions for contemptuous actions and baseless motions. States such as Illinois have relied on this solution, enacting legislation heightening penalties for frivolous filings. Additionally, some attorneys have used Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or its state analog as a basis for sanctioning Sovereign Citizens who file meritless paperwork. Imposing these types of penalties relies on the fundamental theory of deterrence for effectiveness. However, it is questionable whether statutes such as Illinois’ will generate the desired result on Sovereigns under either general or specific deterrence principles. A basic premise of the deterrence theory is that the target population believes the deterrent laws are applicable to them. Sovereigns uniformly reject this notion, making it doubtful that legislation utilizing the same unrecognized legal system will meaningfully influence Sovereign Citizen behavior. Additionally, specific deterrence likely does not serve as a viable rationale for increased penalties because Sovereign Citizens are often either political radicals or in a financially desperate situation. For radicals, additional statutes such as Illinois’ will only serve to reaffirm their views that corruption permeates the American government; while the financially despondent are often turning to Sovereign Citizen tactics as a last resort, by which time statutes calling for additional sanctions on frivolous court filings are unlikely to play a significant role in their legal calculus. Furthermore, recognized Sovereign leaders have demonstrated a steadfastness to their beliefs, even when it results in personal legal difficulties. A commitment surely bolstered from the pecuniary benefits they enjoy from publicizing their ideologies.
An alternative remedy to the antics of Sovereign Citizens is to impose pre-filing injunctions against certain pro-se litigants. These “gatekeeper orders” preclude litigants from filing new lawsuits or papers with the court without prior leave. The benefits of pre-filing injunctions are obvious; they remove the Sovereign Citizen’s favorite weapon from their arsenal by requiring a judge to sign off on any filings proposed by the pro se litigant. However, the limitations of pre-filing injunctions are just as apparent. First, it is likely that imposing an injunction on Sovereign Citizens will serve to reinforce their already dismal view of the legal system and government as a whole. More importantly though, pre-filing injunctions are often akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. This is because in order to obtain an injunction, the moving party will have to make a showing of improper filings meant to harass or waste the court’s time. Meeting this evidentiary threshold is far from trivial, as courts typically exercise lenience with pro-se filings that do not adhere to the established formats, and “imposing categorical bans on future filings” is not favored because that “leaves no room for potentially meritorious filings.” Thus, not only does time need to be invested in filing the motion and obtaining the injunction, but the injunction can only be sought after a “history” of frivolous filings, by which point the court will have already been subjected to a significant strain on its resources. While pre-filing injunctions undoubtedly have situational utility, these gatekeeper orders likely serve only as a band-aid fix to the Sovereign Citizen epidemic.
Ultimately, the most effective solution would be to remedy our country’s systemic flaws that result in gross legal and economic disparities and form the recruitment pool of disenfranchised citizens which Sovereign leaders can exploit. Ensuring that economic safety nets are in place during recessions and economic downturns will help to eliminate the desperation that leads the financially troubled to drink the Sovereign Kool-Aid. Additionally, efforts by governmental agencies or non-profit legal organizations to publish online educational sources covering the pitfalls of Sovereign Citizens would provide a counter force preempting Sovereign guru propaganda on Sovereigns’ most fruitful medium. These websites likely would not convert individuals already entrenched in the Sovereign ideology. However, educational internet resources would restrict the Sovereign recruiting pipeline by providing the financially troubled with knowledge regarding the Sovereign scam, as well as providing access to more viable legal alternatives, such as pro-bono representation. In sum, challenging systemic fixes such as educational and economic reform are likely the only viable long-term solutions to Sovereign Citizens, as the status quo policies are fueling the exponential increase in Sovereign adherents, leaving courts to essentially chop off a hydra’s head when dealing with an individual Sovereign case. Until that overhaul occurs, judicial expediency will likely remain at the mercy of Sovereign Citizens and their paper war.
 Michelle Theret, Sovereign Citizens: A Homegrown Terrorist Threat and Its Negative Impact on South Carolina, 63 S.C. L. Rev. 853, 853 (2012).
 Id. at 854 (noting that courts have become inundated with frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials filed by Sovereign Citizens).
 See Joe Pometto, Sovereign Citizens: Deconstructing, Decoding And Deflating The World’s Most Notorious Anti-Government Movement 8–13 (2020).
 See Michael N. Colacci, Sovereign Citizens: A Cult Movement That Demands Legislative Resistance, 17 Rutgers J. L. & Relig. 153, 153 (2015) (describing how Sovereign Citizens will sometimes refer to themselves as “freemen of the land” or “organic citizens” as recognition that the current government represents a prior illegitimate usurpation).
 See, e.g., Id. at 154 (detailing how the Sovereign belief system applies to any law at any level of government).
 See Caesar Kalinowski IV, A Legal Response to the Sovereign Citizen Movement, 86 Mont. L. Rev. 153, 156 (2019) (explaining how the lack of a unifying Sovereign doctrine makes it difficult for courts to consolidate claims contained in Sovereign filings).
 See Id. at 155 (illustrating how online mediums have perpetuated Sovereign beliefs, leaving no identifiable central repository for Sovereign ideas).
 Admiralty-Maritime Sovereign Citizens believe that the common law legal system of the founding fathers was swapped for admiralty law when the United States abandoned the gold standard. See Sovereign Citizens Movement, S. Poverty L. Ctr., https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/sovereign-citizens-movement [https://perma.cc/9L59-28BH].
 Quantum Grammar refers to the syntax structure developed by the infamous David Wynn Miller, who describes his invention as the mathematical interface for language. See :JUDGE: David-Wynn: Miller, http://www.dwmlc.com/ [https://perma.cc/QE3K-L39F]. If one wishes to see Miller’s mathematical interface in action, an exemplar filing is described in Borkholder v. PNC Bank, N.A., No. 3:12-CV-312-TLS, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111310, at *5. The court dismissed the action after determining the “QUO-Warranto-Complaint and: Lis-Pendens” filed by Burkholder lacked the basic coherence necessary to determine the basic facts and survive dismissal. Id.
 Moorish Sovereign Citizens adhere to the notion that the 1787 Moroccan American Treaty of Friendship placed all of those with Moroccan descent on an equal footing with the U.S. government. See Pometto, supra note 3, at 44–45 (describing Moors claim to a “diplomatic immunity” that precludes U.S. jurisdiction over them).
 Although deliberating over the 31 flavors of ice cream offered by Baskin Robbins presents a much simpler and more enjoyable task than classifying a subspecies of Sovereign Citizen.
 See William P. Stork & Jordan Beumer, Sovereign Citizens in South Carolina: Who Are They and How Do We Deal With Them?, 30 S.C. Law. 43, 45 (indicating these communications are further hampered through the Sovereign Citizen belief that attorneys represent an extension of the illegitimate government system).
 As is the case if the court is addressing a David Wynn Miller Quantum Grammar disciple. See supra note 9 and accompanying text.
 See, e.g., Stork & Beumer, supra note 12, at 46 (“[T]he numerous and nonsensical filings of a Sovereign Citizen can slow litigation to a crawl.”).
 See, e.g., Anna Harman, Recent Vaccine Mandates Raise Questions and Controversy Over Constitutional Rights, Cedars (Oct. 2, 2021), https://cedars.cedarville.edu/2021/10/recent-vaccine-mandates-raise-questions-and-controversy-over-constitutional-rights/ [https://perma.cc/Z9PJ-6BC4] (discussing whether schools, businesses, and governments have the authority to issue vaccine requirements).
 See Christine M. Sarteschi, Anti-vaxxers, Anti-maskers, and the Sovereign Citizen Movement, N.Y. Daily News (Aug. 14, 2021), https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-anti-vaxxers-anti-maskers-and-the-sovereign-citizen-movement-20210814-3xpmibj26zhpbce3yk74qztu5m-story.html [https://perma.cc/94U9-ZXU3] (describing how Sovereign Citizen rhetoric has pervaded recent lawsuits protesting COVID regulations).
 See id.; see also Christine Sarteschi, Sovereign Citizens: More Than Paper Terrorists, Just Sec. (July 5, 2021), https://www.justsecurity.org/77328/sovereign-citizens-more-than-paper-terrorists/ [https://perma.cc/SH98-JLKF] (describing the “ideological overlap” between Sovereign Citizens and anti-maskers).
 See, e.g., Benjamin H. Barton, American (Dis)Trust of the Judiciary, IAALS (Sept. 2019), https://iaals.du.edu/sites/default/files/documents/publications/barton_american_distrust_of_the_judiciary.pdf [https://perma.cc/RE3L-6N6D] (discussing the bipartisan criticisms that have been levied against the legal system and the Supreme Court in particular).
 See S. Poverty L. Ctr., supra note 8 (detailing how Sovereign Citizen leaders garner recruits from those facing a desperate financial situation as well as those who are too impatient to seek traditional measures to challenge legal or tax disputes); see also The Anti-Government Movement Guidebook, The Nat’l Ctr. for State Ct. 9 (1999), [https://perma.cc/ T5NJ-VXFY] (claiming that the common denominator among Sovereign Citizens is a feeling of despair, rooted in pecuniary loss, and manifested in government distrust).
 See Colin McRoberts, Tinfoil Hats and Powdered Wigs: Thoughts on Pseudolaw, 58 Washburn L.J. 637, 647 (2019) (likening the efforts of Sovereign gurus to the propaganda of snake oil salesmen).
 See Mellie Ligon, Comment, The Sovereign Citizen Movement: A comparative Analysis with Similar Foreign Movements and Takeaways for The United States Judicial System, 35 Emory Int’l L. Rev. 297, 301, 303 (2021) (noting that the typical sovereign citizen is typically either the financially despondent or those discouraged with the American bureaucracy and suggesting that the financial crisis of 2008 catalyzed Sovereign Citizen growth in America).
 See U.S. Census Bureau, P60-273, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020 13 (2021) (stating that there were over 37 million impoverished Americans in 2020); Justin McCarthy, Americans Losing Confidence in All Branches of U.S. Gov’t, GALLUP (June 30, 2014), https://news.gallup.com/poll/171992/americans-losing-confidence-branches-gov.aspx [https://perma.cc/F8BE-6QAG] (indicating that the general public’s trust of the judicial system has decreased by over 20% in a five year period).
 See, e.g., :Judge: David-Wynn: Miller, supra note 9 (selling Quantum Grammar books containing sample filings, as well as seminars advocating Miller’s legal theories).
 See, e.g., Marc Stevens, Adventures in Legal Land: Where Black is White and White is Black and Other Shocking Discoveries From America’s Courtrooms (Moses Antonio ed., 2016) (providing scripts and strategies from Sovereign Citizen guru Marc Stevens on how to beat court charges).
 See, e.g., Mark Baggett, DMV Hearing Featuring Sovereign Citizen Marc Stevens, YouTube (Sep. 16, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-lMmPd5-g8 (showing an administrative hearing for a license revocation in which Sovereign Citizen guru Marc Stevens was hired for representation).
 See Pometto, supra note 3, at 106 (“It is the tactic of the Sovereign Citizen to defect, delay, and create a buffer between themselves and the judge.”).
 See Blandino v. Lombardo, No. 2:20-cv-02157-JAD-VCF, 2021 WL 537104, at *1 (D. Nev. Jan. 19, 2021).
 See id.
 See, e.g., Blandino v. Leavitt, No. 79524, 2019 WL 4511653, at*1 (Nev. Ct. App. Sept. 18, 2019) (denying Blandino’s motion to amend his house arrest requirement and drop the prosecution against him because “he has a right to investigate judicial corruption”).
 See S. Poverty L. Ctr., supra note 8 (discussing the case of Donna Lee Wray, who succeeded in having her charge dropped after filing ten documents in two months to contest her $20 dog licensing citation).
 See Pometto, supra note 3, at 67–86 (discussing the Sovereign citizen toolkit, including buzz words and phrases commonly used at court proceedings).
 Id. at 58–61 (noting that this argument stems from Sovereign Citizens importing the definition of driver in some federal statutes as imposing the requirement that to “drive” one must be engaged in interstate commerce).
 See Law Talk with Mike, Sovereign Citizens in Court #6, YouTube (Jan. 24, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jjly8zplatc&list=PLvpewVS8zsgikjR1-D1vxFDGW6eEIs3vs&index=6 (defendant in a traffic action asserting that “Corpus Delicti is kinda funky” because the State of Washington is a fictitious plaintiff); see also Pometto, supra note 3, at 75 (containing further discussion of Sovereigns’ misconception surrounding this legal doctrine).
 See, e.g., DMV Hearing Featuring Sovereign Citizen Marc Stevens, supra note 25 (repeatedly challenging the applicability of the state’s laws to the defendant).
 See, e.g., id. (exemplifying the circuitous nature of a typical Sovereign Citizen court appearance).
 Adam W. Lasker, Stifling ‘Sovereign Citizens’: Tougher Penalties for Unlawful Clouding of Title, 101 Ill. Bar J. 554, 554 (2013) (explaining how Illinois upgraded the penalty for false title-clouding from a misdemeanor to a felony in an effort to stifle the paper war levied by Sovereign Citizens).
 See Stork & Beumer, supra note 12, at 46.
 See Richard L. Nygaard, Crime, Pain and Punishment: A Skeptic’s View, 102 Dickinson L. Rev. 355, 361 (1998) (describing how deterrence works as “coercion by fear” in order to alter problematic behaviors).
 General deterrence is the notion that punishing one offender will discourage others from acting in a similar manner, while specific deterrence relates to the influence punishment has on the targeted individual. Id.
 See Charles E. Loeser, From Paper Terrorists to Cop Killers; The Sovereign Citizen Threat, 93 N.C. L. Rev. 1106, 1129 (questioning the deterrent impact on the litigiousness of those who do not believe in the validity of the government to begin with).
 See, e.g., id.
 See supra notes 3 and 19 and accompanying text.
 See Kalinowski IV, supra note 6, at 156–57 (describing how dismissals of Sovereign Citizen claims as meritless leads to reinforcing already cynical views of government).
 See, e.g., The Anti-Government Movement Guidebook, supra note 19; Ligon, supra note 21 (addressing how bleak financial situations motivate jumping on the Sovereign citizen bandwagon).
 See Loeser, supra note 40, at 1130 (describing how zealous leaders have claimed that jail will not prevent them from continuing to advocate for the Sovereign Citizen cause).
 See supra notes 23–25 and accompanying text.
 See Michael Crowell, Gatekeeper Orders (Pre-filing Injunctions), UNC Sch. Gov’t (Nov. 2012), 07_Crowell Gatekeeper orders Jan 262010.pdf (unc.edu) [https://perma.cc/S7JU-GSZW].
 Id. at 1.
 See, e.g., supra notes 4–5 and accompanying text.
 See, e.g., Cromer v. Kraft Foods N. Am., Inc., 390 F.3d 812, 817 (4th Cir. 2004) (articulating a four part test for issuing a pre-filing injunction “(1) the party’s history of litigation, in particular whether he has filed vexatious, harassing, or duplicative lawsuits; (2) if the party files his cases on good faith bases, or only to harass; (3) the extent of the burden on the courts and other parties resulting from the party’s filings, and (4) if alternative sanctions are adequate”)
 Id. at 819.
 Id. at 817.
 Sovereign Citizens are considered by many to be a cult, similar to the infamous Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones. See, e.g., Stephen A. Kent & Robin D. Willey, Sects, Cults, and the Attack on Jurisprudence, 14 Rutgers J. L. & Relig. 306, 319–24 (2013) (describing the dangerous tendencies of zealous adherents).
 See Loeser, supra note 40, at 1137 (advocating for “soft” solutions to the Sovereign Citizen problem, such as procedural and economic reform).
 See Hydra, Brittanica https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hydra-Greek-mythology [https://perma.cc/F7LN-PF5T] (noting that if one head of the monster was cut off, two more heads would emerge from the wound); see also supra notes 34–36 (addressing the difficulties in deterring future Sovereign tactics by addressing one case).