Monday, March 9, 1998

Week of 03/09/1998

Nothing Personal?
How Legislative Immunity Creates Abuse Of Power
- by David Matthews 2

On March 2nd, the US Supreme Court made an unusual decision concerning personal responsibility and government.

The justices ruled unanimously that local and state legislators be given the same kind of legislative immunity enjoyed by members of Congress. Legislative immunity means you cannot sue legislators individually for violating your rights in the course of passing laws.

On the face of it, it seems to be a legitimate argument. Legislators doing their jobs shouldn’t have to worry about lawsuits for doing their jobs.

But what if they are abusing their jobs? What then?

Therein lies the problem. Government is the one institution that can legitimately take away everything you have. Your money, your business, your livelihood, your property, even your freedom and even your life. And if they screw up? They just shrug and say "Nothing personal, I was just doing my job."

Suppose you run a legal business. Everything you do is constitutionally protected, but not widely accepted. Maybe you sell tobacco, or alcohol, or some racy magazines or adult videos. Along comes a self-righteous politician who decides he doesn’t like what you do. So he makes it his business to put you out of business. He takes his crusade to the public, bashing what you do so much you start to think there’s a sub-basement in Hell made in your honor. He gets laws passed, has your goods impounded, shuts down your businesses and your livelihood, and on top of it has you arrested. You sue the government and win. You go through the whole appeals process until even the highest court agrees with you. Game over?

Hardly! The self-righteous crusader tries all over again. He rewrites the law, gets it passed, gets it enforced, takes away your business and property again, and has you arrested again. You have to spend more money for lawyers and court costs.

Most citizens have limited finances. Government does not. Eventually, you’ll either have to shut down your business or go broke. Either way, the self-righteous crusader wins.

And what recourse do you have against this crusader? NONE! The courts believe that the only recourse is the ballot box. But remember that in this case, your business is constitutionally protected but not widely accepted. This crusader has already taken his case to the public and maligned what you do to being akin to the worst evils in history. He already has a core group of active voters who have the time and the resources to make sure their agenda gets enacted.

As a further insult, the self-righteous tyrant has unlimited access to tax monies that you have to contribute to. You are compelled to fund the very means of your own destruction! And even if you win and the government has to pay for your legal fees, you still lose! What makes matters worse is that even if you vote the guy out, he will STILL get a generous pension at your expense. He’ll still get paid for destroying your life!

Remember folks, tyrants don’t care about anyone other than themselves. The only way to hurt a tyrant is to hurt them personally. In this case, through their personal wallets. When the local politician with self-righteous indignation and delusions of grandeur have to put up the same amount of money in legal costs as those they persecute, they think twice about their crusades.

It’s also quite hypocritical for politicians to rail on about personal responsibility when they are immune from responsibility for their legislative actions. Those conservatives and liberals who preach about the lack of personal responsibility apparently don’t realize that they themselves contribute to the problem by sanctioning legislative abuses.

Of course, the ability to sue legislators has it’s share of abuses as well. The case that elicited the Supreme Court decision involved a former city employee who’s job was eliminated. She claimed it was in retaliation for past complaints. She sued city hall and the council members individually. The court dismissed the case against city hall, but found against the individual members of the city council. The logic was somewhat flawed in that the council members were acting as "agents" of city hall, thus city hall should have been just as liable as the members themselves. The two parties are linked in that regard. But instead of linking the two parties, as they should have, the justices went the opposite route and said the agents of government are immune from being held responsible for their actions in that regard.

Look, in an ideal world, the systematic and endless abuse of power by legislators on all levels of government would be rewarded by prison terms, not terms in office. Unfortunately, we live in a world with self-righteous politicians who abuse the very freedoms they claim to cherish. Without the means to punish them for those abuses, individual freedom is meaningless. That is something that the US Supreme Court has apparently forgotten about.

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