“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jefferson
One of the most bothersome things about the Republican Party these days has to be their sheer hypocrisy when it
comes to the concept of liberty. Many claim to be “strict constitutionalists,” but really, which rights do they seem to care about, except the right to bear arms? When you look at their view of each Amendment in the Bill of Rights one by one, you can see a serious problem.
Amendment I — Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Republicans really hate this one. They pretend to love the religion part, because they think it’ll get them votes. But it’s usually phony. What they really mean is they demand their “right” to preachify and annoy us with their religion, and to create laws they know will be struck down in court, because they want to impress their “base.” I mean, God forbid we want to remove the Ten Commandments from the secular courthouse, or make sure our children don’t feel pressured to say a prayer before or after school. However, just try putting a “mosque” in an old Burlington Coat Factory “too close” to where the World Trade Center once stood. You’ll find out just how anti-First Amendment they are.
The problem is this (capital L) Libertarian streak they have. They value their own freedom to say whatever nonsense they want in any forum they wish, but they really don’t value anyone else’s. In fact, when anyone calls them on their nonsense, they view any differing opinion as if the person offering the opinion is somehow stifling their freedom of speech. In their view, Rush Limbaugh must be allowed to scream as much racist, misogynist nonsense as he wants, but anyone who objects to certain sponsors helping pay for that nonsense is somehow violating Limbaugh’s right to free speech.
Republicans also feel the right to free speech should be severely limited to whatever fits into their narrow world view. Rush Limbaugh can spend three days calling a woman a slut, and Fox News is allowed to perpetrate any lie under the guise of “news.” (Fox even sued one time to protect their right to lie on air.) Yet, they’re first in line to demand a ban on certain types of art or pornography, even if the odds of someone seeing it and being negatively affected by it is almost nil. Few Republicans seem to have a problem with petitioning the government for a redress of their grievances, but when anyone else does it they throw a shit fit. They want abortion protesters to be able to block access to clinics, and they want them to be able to intimidate women who were entering a clinic for healthcare. But they also want the right to refer to the people of Ferguson who protest the murder of Michael Brown as “mobs” and “thugs,” and they applaud the arrests of as many of these people as possible. If black people protest anywhere, Republicans will gather together and demand a “crackdown.” Of course when someone shows up at a tea party rally with a gun and assign comparing the president to an ape or calling him a murderer, we’re supposed to just forgive them.
Put simply, Republicans are not fans of the First Amendment in the least.
Amendment II — A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
This is the Amendment that most Republicans think is the key to the survival of the United States. Forget freedom of speech and the right to a trial and all of that; without a gun, our freedoms are in mortal danger. The funny thing is, it doesn’t actually say what they think it says. You know that first part, about the “well-regulated militia”? As far as Republicans are concerned, that clause has no real meaning, so ignore that. As Republicans see it, the Second Amendment creates an unlimited right to buy any gun you wish and shoot anyone who gets in your face. Period. No qualifiers.
Amendment III — No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
This one doesn’t come up very much, so let’s skip this one.
Amendment IV — The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V — No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI – In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Right wingers absolutely detest this section of the Bill of Rights, because it’s not nice and neat, and it requires work to enforce. Their basic premise is based on the concept that, “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you should have nothing to fear if authorities want to check you out.” Of course, there seems to be an exemption for those who are doctor-shopping for oxycontin to feed their addiction. But for the most part, they believe, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you should have nothing to fear.
If you think I’m exaggerating, consider the drug laws they champion, and consider how many years they operated the NSA surveillance program in secret, without any oversight whatsoever. Take a look at the TSA setup at the airport, which would make George Orwell blush. For that matter, consider their blind worship of the almighty driver’s license. If it has a picture, then it proves who you are, right? Well, it must, because you have to show it to someone in many Republican states before you’re allowed to exercise the most basic right you have — the right to vote.
This is, of course, insane. The purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to ensure that government works for us, and not the other way around. For our justice system to work at all, the government should always have the burden of proof anytime you’re being accused of a crime. The government has to prove you are a criminal; you do not have to prove you are not. Yet, consider how many times the current Republican Party stands that concept on its head. As far as they’re concerned, if a police officer accuses you of a crime, he or she must have a reason, and that cop is absolutely entitled to search everything you have. If the subject is terrorism or drugs, you have no right to anything, as Republicans see it. If Republicans think it keeps you safe, any government run by them should have an unmitigated right to comb your personal records, whether medical, financial, or phone records.
Consider the Arizona “Show me your papers” law. In order for police to determine who’s here illegally and who isn’t, Arizona’s GOP lawmakers happily gave them the power to approach people randomly and demand proof of American citizenship. There was no need for probable cause, and no crime had to be committed. Do you realize how oppressive that is? If we were to let a law like that stand (thankfully the courts struck it down), it would set a precedent whereby you would have to prove you didn’t commit a crime. and consider this; look in your wallet right now. Where is your proof that you are a citizen? No one carries that kind of proof around with them every day. A law like that, which targets people who look a certain way, is the opposite of what this country is supposed to stand for. And yet, Republicans passed a law, a Republican governor signed the law and that Republican governor and her staff happily fought the federal government so they could keep it.
The Republican bastardization of the Fourth Amendment has been happening for more than 30 years as part of something called the “drug war.” For decades now, law enforcement officials have been allowed to confiscate the goods and money of anyone who has even been accused of dealing drugs, and they’ve even been able to force the owners to go to court to recover it. According to the Fourth Amendment, that should be illegal. Yet, Republicans love the idea.
In all fairness, Republicans do like the last part of the Fifth Amendment, but not the rest of it. For eight years, their last president, George W. Bush, violated every aspect of the Fifth Amendment, with the Republican Congress happily acquiescing. Capturing people, holding them in prison without benefit of counsel for years, and even torturing them, all became part of the “war on terrrrrr,” which was something of a bookend to the “war on drugs.” Apparently, as the current Republican Party sees it, if due process is inconvenient, and prevents you from throwing someone in jail because you think he or she is dangerous, then screw the Fifth Amendment.
That’s not how it should work, folks. It’s supposed to be difficult for those in power to accuse us of a crime and prove it. Again, the burden of proof is always on the accusers/government. That is how we stay safe. Republicans don’t think that way. They want to be able to label someone a criminal, throw them in jail and be done with it. Due process is just a bother to them. Innocent until proven guilty is a major pain in the ass to Republicans.
Amendment VII – In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
This is another one Republicans kind of hate, given their constant chatter about tort reform, by which they mean they want to eliminate your ability to sue a large company that does damage to you. They do want large companies to have the opportunity to sue you for the damage you do to them, however. Consider their attitude toward intellectual property. We used to place strict limits on trademarks, copyrights and patents, because the greater good is served by limited control over them. Over the course of the last 34 years or so, limits on intellectual property have been extended to the point that nothing becomes public domain anymore. Yet, while they want large companies to make money off of their intellectual property ad infinitum, they don’t want you to be compensated for those same companies’ neglect of the public trust. They have no confidence in the judiciary’s competence to determine the merits of a lawsuit, to the point that they refer to almost any lawsuit they disagree with as “frivolous.” They also want to limit damages to whatever the defendant in any suit (except those they bring) can afford comfortably. For example, in 2011, the Republican House passed the HEALTH Act, despite the fact that they knew it would never become law. That law would have capped non-monetary damages in medical malpractice and other health-related torts at $250,000, even if the doctor who made a mistake was considered criminally negligent. That would effectively have ended the right to a jury trial for many people, as many cases would have just settled out of court for the maximum. It also would’ve taken away the jury’s right to determine what size penalty would be appropriate against certain companies. Let’s face it; $250,000 might seem punitive against a company that’s worth less than $1 million, such a lawsuit against General Motors would not be punitive that all.
Again, the current Republican Party doesn’t seem to have the same regard for the Bill of Rights as its creators.
On the other hand, Congressional Republicans do want to sue the president, because they can’t get anything done on the legislative side of the government.
Wouldn’t that constitute the very definition of a “frivolous lawsuit”?
Amendment VIII – Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Once again, Republicans have never had a problem with excessive bail, and they don’t have a problem with excessive fines against those they don’t care for, such as those they label “terrorists” without a trial. But they also don’t seem to have a problem with imposing the death penalty, which has become increasingly cruel and unusual in recent years. for example, because a number of pharmaceutical companies throughout the world object to the American use of their drugs to kill people, they are now refusing to sell those drugs to our prison system. Republicans, instead of reevaluating the efficacy and humanity of capital punishment, are now considering the use of other means to execute people that have previously been determined to be too cruel and unusual because of their failure rate. Ask the people of Utah. Their Republican Party wants to bring back firing squads, which were previously outlawed as cruel and unusual approximately 30 years ago.
Amendment IX – The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
I’m not even sure most Republicans know what the above means.
What this means is, just because a right isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Constitution doesn’t mean the people don’t have others. In fact, you pretty have the right to do just about anything that isn’t expressly prohibited by the law. and yet, how many times have you been in an argument with Republican and then asked something like, “Oh yeah? And where in the Constitution do you have the right to (insert name of activity here)?” most of them seem to think that anything that isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Constitution is a privilege. This, despite the fact that pretty much every court in the history of the country has determined that there are no privileges in this country or this system of government. If one person has the right to do something, all others also have that right. Driving is a right, not a privilege. being treated when you walk into an emergency room with your arm hanging off is a right, not a privilege. Republicans don’t understand this.
Apply this concept to same-sex marriage. Republicans argue that marriage is defined as between a man and a woman only, and that same-sex couples don’t have the same rights as everyone else. But the Ninth Amendment (and the Fourteenth Amendment say otherwise. Just because marriage rights aren’t spelled out in the Constitution doesn’t mean they don’t exist. A marriage license is a right. If you don’t believe that, then explain why Charles Manson is getting one. NIot only that, but the tax benefits that derive from being part of a married couple are also rights.
Amendment X – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
This one is deceptively simple, but Republicans either don’t understand it, or pretend to think it has some broad meaning under the umbrella “states’ rights.” Essentially. the way Republicans seem to interpret this Amendment aligns with their concept of state sovereignty, which is a bit skewed. Essentially, the average Republican seems to think this Amendment gives states sovereign powers, which is doesn’t. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. It simply says that states have power over any subject matter on which the federal government hasn’t already passed a law. Some right wing courts seem to be trying to relax that standard a bit, but for the most part, they have stayed firm. Except for a few functions specifically reserved to the states, such as voting, real estate and licensing matters, the federal government can take charge of just about any issue, and create a standard.
Republicans don’t like this, of course, when they find it inconvenient. Again, look at the Arizona immigration law. The southern border with Mexico isn’t actually a state border, but a national one.
Republicans are into power. When they’re in charge of the federal government, the federal government becomes all-powerful. When Democrats run the federal government, they become advocates for what they call “states’ rights.” Look at the difference between Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. When Bush and the GOP Congress were in charge, the federal government took control of disaster relief, all but removing states from the process of recovery altogether, and putting FEMA and DHS in charge of everything. By the time of Hurricane Sandy, Republicans wanted states to take charge of relief efforts.
And that illustrates the problem with the current incarnation of the Republican Party. They are far more interested in power than rights and freedoms, so they tend to change their view of the Bill of Rights based on what will give them the most power.
They don’t really care about your rights, just theirs.