Monthly Archives: May 2010

Contra Rand Paul: The Libertarian And Constitutional Case For The Civil Rights Act Of 1964


Made by several of the most prominent libertarian scholars out there:

“I think Rand Paul is wrong about the Civil Rights Act,” libertarian Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsey wrote in an e-mail. “As a general matter, people should be free to deal or not deal with others as they choose. And that means we discriminate against those we choose not to deal with. In marrying one person, we discriminate against all others. Businesses can discriminate against potential employees who don’t meet hiring qualifications, and they can discriminate against potential customers who don’t observe a dress code (no shirt, no shoes, no service). Rand Paul is appealing to the general principle of freedom of association, and that general principle is a good one.

“But it has exceptions. In particular, after three-plus centuries of slavery and another century of institutionalized, state-sponsored racism (which included state toleration of private racist violence), the exclusion of blacks from public accommodations wasn’t just a series of uncoordinated private decisions by individuals exercising their freedom of association. It was part and parcel of an overall social system of racial oppression,” Lindsey said.

“Paul’s grievous error is to ignore the larger context in which individual private decisions to exclude blacks were made. In my view, at least, truly individual, idiosyncratic discrimination ought to be legally permitted; for example, the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld ought to be free to deny soup to anybody no matter how crazy his reasons (they didn’t ask nicely, they mispronounced the soup, etc.). But the exclusion of blacks from public accommodations wasn’t like that — not even close.”

“To be against Title II in 1964 would be to be brain-dead to the underlying realities of how this world works,” said professor Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago. “In 1964, every major public accommodation that operated a nationwide business was in favor of being forced to admit minorities.” National chains, he explained, feared desegregating in the South without the backing of the federal government because they feared boycotts, retribution and outright violence.

The problem with the Civil Rights Act, Epstein explained, is “when you say, this is such a wonderful idea, let’s carry it over to disability. At this point, you create nightmares of the first order” in terms of problematic government bureaucracies and baseless lawsuits.

“We have to start with some historical context,” e-mailed George Mason Law professor David Bernstein, who is also a blogger at The Volokh Conspiracy. “If segregation and discrimination in the Jim Crow South was simply a matter of law, federal legislation that would have overturned Jim Crow laws would have sufficed. But, in fact, it involved the equivalent of a white supremacist cartel, enforced not just by overt government regulation like segregation laws, but also by the implicit threat of private violence and harassment of anyone who challenged the racist status quo.”

“Therefore, to break the Jim Crow cartel, there were only two options: (1) a federal law invalidating Jim Crow laws, along with a massive federal takeover of local government by the federal government to prevent violence and extralegal harassment of those who chose to integrate; or (2) a federal law banning discrimination by private parties, so that violence and harassment would generally be pointless. If, like me, you believe that it was morally essential to break the Jim Crow cartel, option 2 was the lesser of two evils. I therefore would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” Bernstein concluded.

As I’ve been thinking about this issue since yesterday, I think this is about where I stand on this issue. I stand by what I said when this controversy first broke in that I believe, at least in the abstract, that people should be free to do business or not do business with whoever they want, for whatever reason they want. Additionally, I’m entirely uncomfortable with the tortured reasoning in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States and Katzenbach v. McClung, where the Commerce Clause was twisted beyond all rational meaning to justify Title II of the Act.

Instead of engaging in intellectual jujitsu, and doing several harm to concepts such as Federalism and limited government in the process, however, the Supreme Court did have another option; they could have revisited the horribly mistaken decision in The Slaughterhouse Cases:

When it was ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment added several revolutionary new provisions to the Constitution, barring states from violating the “privileges or immunities” of citizens, or taking anyone’s life, liberty or property without “due process of law,” or depriving people of the “equal protection of the laws.” But the first time it heard a case under that amendment — in the 1873 Slaughterhouse Cases — the Supreme Court basically erased the privileges or immunities clause, dramatically limiting the way the federal government would protect people against wrongful acts by state officials.

That case began when Louisiana passed a law forbidding butchers from slaughtering cattle anywhere in New Orleans except a single, privately owned facility. The beef industry was big business in New Orleans, and the new law put hundreds of butchers out of business overnight. The butchers sued, arguing that the law violated their right to earn a living without unreasonable government interference. Judges had recognized that right as far back as 1602, when England’s highest court declared government-created monopolies illegal under the Magna Carta. The right to earn an honest living came to be recognized as one of the fundamental rights — or “privileges and immunities” — in the common law.

Yet in Slaughterhouse, the Court ruled against the butchers, holding, 5-4, that despite the new amendment’s language, federal courts would not guarantee traditional rights against interference by states. With only minor exceptions, the Court declared, those rights were “left to the State governments for security and protection.”

The decision’s ramifications were profound. In the years after the Civil War, Americans — particularly in the South — needed protection against abusive state legislatures. That was the protection the privileges or immunities clause promised, and that the Slaughterhouse decision eliminated. During the next decade, federal authorities abandoned Reconstruction efforts to protect former slaves, and black Americans were condemned to another century of segregation and oppression.

Ten years later in The Civil Rights Cases, the Supreme Court invalidated the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which would have essentially accomplished the same thing that Title II of the 1964 Act did eighty-nine years later and in the process essentially gutted another part of the 14th Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause. At that time, the sole dissenter, John Marshall Harlan made a prescient observation:

Today it is the colored race which is denied, by corporations and individuals wielding public authority, rights fundamental in their freedom and citizenship. At some future time, it may be that some other race will fall under the ban of race discrimination. If the constitutional amendments be enforced according to the intent with which, as I conceive, they were adopted, there cannot be, in this republic, any class of human beings in practical subjection to another class with power in the latter to dole out to the former just such privileges as they may choose to grant. The supreme law of the land has decreed that no authority shall be exercised in this country upon the basis of discrimination, in respect of civil rights, against freemen and citizens because of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude. To that decree — for the due enforcement of which, by appropriate legislation, Congress has been invested with express power — everyone must bow, whatever may have been, or whatever now are, his individual views as to the wisdom or policy either of the recent changes in the fundamental law or of the legislation which has been enacted to give them effect.

But for a different outcome in The Slaughterhouse Cases and The Civil Rights Cases, the entire system of mandated racial segregation known as Jim Crow would have been under direct legal assault at the time of it’s birth.

It’s also worth noting that Plessy v. Ferguson involved a Louisiana law that was designed to prevent the Pullman Company from offering equal seating options to blacks. That, in fact, was the entire purpose of Jim Crow laws. Even if, for example, the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina had wanted to serve the four black college students who sat down at their lunch counter on February 1, 1960, the laws in place at the time told them that they couldn’t. Racial segregation in the South wasn’t a product of the free market, it was the product of a state imposing racial prejudices under the threat of criminal prosecution. For that reason alone, it was a violation of the 14th Amendment and the Federal Government was entirely justified in trying to bring it down.

Now, none of this means that racism didn’t exist in the South. Obviously it did, otherwise Jim Crow never would have been imposed in the first place. However, by passing these laws it’s fairly clear what that the intent of the Southern legislatures was to prevent the newly freed blacks from participating in the economic life of the South by denying them access to jobs, business opportunities, and trade while at the same time denying them access to the polls so that they wouldn’t be able to have their voice heard at the state capital. At the same time, it prevented other whites, as well as businesses from other parts of the country, from any efforts to break down the walls of segregation.

Even though the arguments that were used to justify the Constitutionality of the Act involved tortured reasoning under the Commerce Clause, the results would have been the same had the Supreme Court not so blatantly ignored the plain intent of the 14th Amendment so many years ago. So, yes, I think that Rand Paul’s criticisms of Title II are correct in some sense, and that the question of how far government should be permitted to regulate private affairs is an issue that needs to be debated more closely. That said, it’s fairly clear that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was proper, and that it’s long past time that the Privileges and Immunities Clause was given it’s full force and effect.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

Comment of the Day: The ‘Why Politics Sucks’ Edition

Re: Rand Paul Under Attack from the Left for his ‘Lunch Counter Libertarianism’

This is why politics sucks. When you actually consider what the significance of Paul’s very nuanced view on this is and then juxtapose over what his potential duties as Senator would be, you quickly come to the correct conclusion that this matter means absolutely nothing.

He will be voting on budgets, taxes, appropriations and so on. And yet, while we can debate whether or not it is good or wise or prudent to have so much money and influence voted on in DC (I am opposed), the fact that such a decision about who should be qualified to do all this voting on behalf of the citizens of KY would be seriously and deliberately dumbed down to this irrelevant gotcha argument about civil rights and federal power is just frightening and simply further proof to how bad this process is.

Comment by John V — May 20, 2010 @ 7:32 pm

I think John V did a better job of making this point than I did. What Rachel Maddow was trying to do was use this gotcha play straight out of the Left’s playbook. Anyone who has libertarian leanings who wishes to run for office should be advised that because you have these leanings, you will be asked about your thoughts on the Civil Rights Act, particularly the title that deals with private businesses.

When I watched this interview, at first I was frustrated that Dr. Paul didn’t go into a more detailed explanation of this position that I admit is out of the mainstream* of modern political thought. Why did he keep going back to the gun argument** and why did he focus so much on the other nine titles that he, Maddow, and probably most who have libertarian leanings agree upon?

While I still believe Dr. Paul could have made a more persuasive argument or explained his position better, it has since occurred to me why he chose to respond as he did: he didn’t want to give his opponents too many sound bytes that could be used for attack ads.

Paul’s opponents, if they haven’t already, are busy producing negative campaign ads showing segregated lunch counters and juxtaposing his worst picture they can find next to Bull Connor’s. They will no doubt make the claim that Rand Paul wants to ‘turn back the clock’ on civil rights even though he has repeatedly said that the matter has been settled and that he would do no such thing***.

Rather than have an honest debate about this particular point, this kind of manipulation is what the debate is going to be reduced to.

John V is quite correct: This is why politics suck.

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Who Defends 40% Taxation?

Saw this (original comic by Wuerker of Politico) at The Big Picture:

My question… In what world is it fair that any entity stakes a forcible claim to 40% of your income? It doesn’t matter that the number was higher in the past, the number is simply too high.

Again, that number is 40%!

You go to work, you work your ass off for a 10 hour day (as most people in this income group do), and at the end of the day 4 of the 10 hours you worked were for the government? For every $100 you earn, the feds take $40 (not counting social security, medicare, state income and/or sales taxes, fees, etc).

40%?!?!?! The recommended portions of your income to put towards HOUSING EXPENSES is 28%. You’re expected to spend far more of your income on your government than on your own house? Absurd!

We can debate the use of the word “socialism” all we want. But I think if every payday someone had to cut a check for 40% of their income just to feed the gaping mouths in Washington, the very idea of 40% tax rates would start a revolution. But instead, we have people explaining it away and waving us off because the rates used to be higher.

Rand Paul Under Attack from the Left for his ‘Lunch Counter Libertarianism’

Now that Dr. Rand Paul easily dispatched the big government establishment Republican candidate Trey Grayson in the Kentucky senate primary, the Left is already on the attack. Rachel Maddow had Dr. Paul on her show regarding some comments he made concerning the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The issue: the notion that the federal government should not force private businesses to adopt anti-discriminatory practices.

In response to The Rachel Maddow Show interview, Jake Berliner for The Huffington Post writes:

Pretty much everyone is rightfully offended by this sentiment. The question of whether or not it is an overreach of government to desegregate lunch counters is long settled. What still exists is the sort of economic libertarianism that drives one to Paul’s conclusion.

Paul’s beliefs about constrained government – one so limited that it can’t enforce basic rules that serve the good of society – translate on the economic front into a free market responsible for virtually everything. In this case – theoretically – if the market was not amenable to segregated lunch-counters, people would stop buying food at segregated diners, and the hidden hand would have cured racism.

Whether or not the market ‘cures racism’ is not the point, Mr. Berliner. Yes, I believe that most Americans in 2010 would not patronize a business that would refuse service to someone based on race but this is really a freedom of choice and freedom of association issue.

Berliner continues:

But the fact is that, as America enjoys its place as the one true global superpower, we no longer have the luxury of a government that sits idly by and allows the free market to solve every problem, whether of civil rights or economic prosperity.

How the hell would you know? When was the last time we truly had a ‘government that sits idly by’? Government screws up civil rights progress and the economy but non-existent lassie faire policies receive all the blame. This is hardly a ‘fact’ sir.

While competition and markets have been key to allowing the innovation that has driven American prosperity, so too have crucial pieces of government investments. From decisions over two centuries to build a world-class Navy capable of allowing the U.S. to be a titan of global commerce, to Eisenhower’s National Highways, to the creation the Internet, to preventing a second Great Depression, key, responsible government actions have not only not impinged on our economic freedoms, they have enabled the prosperity that has made us not just free, but truly great.

There is just so much wrong with that paragraph I don’t know where to begin but the basic point I think Mr. Berliner is trying to make is that its government rather than entrepreneurs that makes America great.

As Dr. Paul rightly pointed out in the Rachel Maddow interview, most of the Civil Rights Act dealt with racist policies of the government – the very government that Mr. Berliner, Rachel Maddow, and others from the Left thinks is so wonderful. It was government which was responsible for allowing slavery to exist, the ethnic cleansing and removal of the Native Americans, the internment of American citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry, and racial segregation of government schools, buses, and other public spaces, just to name a few examples.

If government is supposed to be our moral compass, why then are we surprised when private actors do such things as segregate lunch counters when government has already said such a practice is acceptable?

Attacks from the Left towards libertarian philosophy and those who champion it should not come as any surprise and is nothing new; ask those who supported Barry Goldwater. Rand Paul presents a threat the Left isn’t used to: principle.

The Left can easily defeat the logic of the typical Neo-Conservative or Social Conservative because of the inconsistency of his or her principles (i.e. in favor of some liberties but not others). But when people are introduced to the rights of Life, Liberty, and Property, these are quite simple, consistent concepts to grasp.

If the people of this country ever wake up and realize there are more choices besides the Left and the Right, individuals such as Dr. Rand Paul are quite dangerous indeed.

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William F. Buckley, Jr. Would Be Proud


William F. Buckley Jr. is famous for once having said:

“I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

If he were still around today, I’m sure he’d get some enjoyment out of the fact that a plurality of Americans agree with him:

Tuesday’s primaries were more proof of the anti-incumbency mood felt in many parts of the nation, and a new Rasmussen Reports poll finds that many voters continue to feel a randomly selected sample of people from the phone book could do a better job than their elected representatives in Congress.

The latest national telephone survey of Likely Voters finds that 41% say a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress. Almost as many (38%) disagree, however, and another 20% are undecided.

These findings show little change from early January and early September 2009. However, the number of voters who feel a random selection could do better is up eight points from early
October 2008
, just before the presidential election.

Honestly, it couldn’t be any worse, could it ?

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