Special to The Sun
More than 2,500 years ago, Heraclitus of Ephesus made the following observation: “The people should fight for their law as for their city wall.” The reason for this admonition is clear. In Heraclitus’ day, the strength of the wall was the guarantor of the people’s freedom. Should that wall fail before an invading enemy, the city’s inhabitants would become the slaves of the invader. By the same token, if the city’s citizens or rulers decided to ignore the laws set up to preserve public freedom, the same outcome could be expected. Destruction of the legal system leads to slavery as surely as destruction of the city wall.
Many years later, noted American political thinker, Walter Lippman, offered this addition to Heraclitus’ point: “The first principle of a civilized state is that power is legitimate only when it is under contract.” This means, of course, that those in authority must exercise that authority within formalized legal bounds. Otherwise, their decisions, good or bad, are not lawful.
These great thinkers, and hundreds of others through history have recognized a truism. Disdain for law coupled with the exercise of power is a sure recipe for tyranny.
With these words of wisdom in mind, let’s take stock of some recent developments in the integrity of America’s legal system.
Early in his administration, President Obama decided, on his own authority, to discontinue defending the “Defense of Marriage Act,” even though this was a duly enacted federal law. Later he decided, again on his own authority, to “rewrite” America’s immigration statutes in order to install a regime of selective enforcement that essentially amended federal legislation on the subject.
Since then, we have seen government functionaries in high positions engage in a widespread and clearly illegal scheme to employ the Internal Revenue Service as an instrument to intimidate, inhibit and interfere with the lawful exercise of political groups.
More recently, the Attorney General announced that the Justice Department, on its own initiative, has rewritten, without congressional input or approval America’s federal penal code. Even though Congress has established definitions of crime and consequent punishments, the Attorney General has decided to substitute a system more in line with his personal opinions.
But there’s more. We all remember how Obamacare was oiled up with procedural gimmickry and greased through the legislative process. We recall the unseemly backroom wheeling and dealing that tainted the entire disgraceful farce. Now, the President and his minions have decided they are unsatisfied with the deal they unilaterally rammed through. So they decided, on their own initiative, to rewrite the statute. Once again, they see no need to solicit congressional approval or even make a pretense of observing constitutional safeguards concerning federal checks and balances. The president has decided to insert super legislative timelines in his bill. Congress and the American people can either “like it or lump it.”
Meanwhile, the Attorney General remains in contempt of Congress for failing to provide subpoenaed documents relative to the “Fast and Furious” scheme that placed lethal weapons in the hands of known drug dealers. No doubt, behavior like this committed by anyone else in the United States would constitute a felony. But the Attorney General and his Justice Department evidently don’t feel bound by laws that must be obeyed by the rest of us. And now, an Aug. 15 story appearing in the New York Post informs us there are more deaths traceable to weapons placed in the hands of drug dealers with the knowledge and approval of the Department of Justice.
We remember that border patrol agent Brian Terry was a casualty of the “Fast and Furious” program. We’ve now learned that other weapons allowed to “walk” into the hands of violent drug dealers have been associated with other murders and located at violent crime scenes.
Blatant disdain for the law once or twice might be explainable. But the roster of unapologetic defiance displayed by this administration only can be explained by a single word. Corruption. This administration has allowed and encouraged its functionaries to permit their power to go to their heads. Evidently they are convinced that legal impediments standing between them and their desired results are mere inconveniences that may be ignored or subverted.
The danger, of course, is dangerously clear. Once this precedent is established, it is almost inevitable that it will be repeated. We are reminded of a quote by Diderot, the French philosopher. “Anyone who takes it upon himself, on his private authority, to break a bad law, thereby authorizes everyone else to break the good ones.” Unless we do something, our city walls are crumbling. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.