Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Prima facie -- that's the Latin equivalent for "at first glance" -- it might sound both well-timed and encouraging that the administration of President Barack Obama, who hails from Hawaii, has decided that the Justice Department will step up enforcement of Civil Rights law.
Eric Holder's push would seem well-timed on the face of it because Hawaii's longstanding racial problems seem to have worsened lately. Glenn Reynolds quotes the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Celia Padron went on a Hawaiian vacation last year, lured by the prospect of beautiful beaches and friendly people. She, her husband and two teenage daughters enjoyed the black sand beach at Makena State Park on Maui. But a Hawaiian girl accosted her two teenage daughters, saying, "Go back to the mainland" and "Take your white ass off our beaches," says Padron, a pediatric gastroenterologist in New Jersey.This cultural rot includes sympathy for the idea of legally forbidding whites to vote in Hawaii.
When her husband, 68 at the time, stepped between the girls, three young Hawaiian men slammed him against a vehicle, cutting his ear, and choked and punched him, Padron says. Police officers persuaded the Padrons not to press charges, saying it would be expensive for them to return for court appearances and a Hawaiian judge would side with the Hawaiian assailants, the doctor contends.
And Holder's push would seem -- again, on the surface -- to be encouraging. From the New York Times:
To bolster a unit that has been battered by heavy turnover and a scandal over politically tinged hiring under the Bush administration, the Obama White House has also proposed a hiring spree that would swell the ranks of several hundred civil rights lawyers with more than 50 additional lawyers, a significant increase for a relatively small but powerful division of the government.Unfortunately, as anyone who has experienced the annoyance of interacting with a bigot or suffered the real harm of discriminatory law will know, surface appearances aren't everything.
The division is "getting back to doing what it has traditionally done," Mr. Holder said in an interview. "But it's really only a start. I think the wounds that were inflicted on this division were deep, and it will take some time for them to fully heal."
The first passage quoted above unfortunately veers off into a discussion of "hate crime," which is actually fortuitous because it leads nicely into what is wrong with Holder's initiative. As I have stated in the past regarding hate crime legislation:
The proper response to hate crime legislation is simple. First, abolish it. Second, throw the book at criminals for their actual crimes rather than for what they think. Our government exists to protect us from the initiation of force on the part of others (i.e., from fraud, theft, and murder). But holding a belief, however repugnant, does not, as Thomas Jefferson might put it, "pick someone’s pocket or break his leg." The only valid reason to consider someone's beliefs in a criminal case is to establish intent. This is already part of criminal law. The crime should be punished the same regardless of the belief system of its perpetrator.In other words, the proper function of the government is to protect individual rights, and hate crimes legislation actually does nothing towards this end. Rather, by attacking freedom of speech, it violates individual rights.
So what has this to do with Holder's announcement? Everything. For Holder is not getting ready to make sure that Hawaiians -- and all Americans -- are protected equally under the law, but to intensify enforcement of laws that, in fact, violate individual rights.
As part of this shift, the Obama administration is planning a major revival of high-impact civil rights enforcement against policies, in areas ranging from housing to hiring, where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly. President George W. Bush's appointees had discouraged such tactics, preferring to focus on individual cases in which there is evidence of intentional discrimination.It is bad enough that there are laws on the books which violate the property rights of individuals by preventing them from deciding with whom they will do business, but at least under the old regime, Justice was focusing on whether someone actually discriminated against someone else.
But now, apparently, one will not be judged as an individual any more when it comes to these laws, but according to which racial category one belongs and whether what he has done in the daily course of his affairs looks, statistically, like he might have engaged in racial discrimination. (Which is not necessarily wrong, as Walter Williams recently pointed out.) The timing of Holder's announcement turns out to be simply -- and ironically -- coincidental.
So, despite superficial appearances, Barack Obama is not stepping up to the plate to protect individual citizens equally under the law. He is not taking steps to ameliorate a problem that should, arguably, be familiar to him. He is not taking up the legitimate mantle of the struggle for racial equality that saw an end to Jim Crow. Instead, he is running with the pack of wolves that subverted that struggle and turned it into an effort to establish new discriminatory laws that simply injure different classes of the citizens he has sworn to protect.
I am extremely disappointed in Barack Obama, but when we look deeper, we see that his political opposition is far from blameless: That Bush and the GOP lacked the intestinal fortitude to repeal such laws is not only damning for them, it is coming home to roost for all of us now.
At the rate Barack Obama is going, the next election cycle promises to be a slaughter for his party. The time to demand that the GOP start repealing laws that violate individual rights is now.