Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Rule of Law(?)

Of late there has been some reporting and much talk of an Administration "campaign" or "war" against Rush Limbaugh and Fox News and others who believe less government automatically creates more freedom. At the moment, the attacks appear to be limited to smear tactics, rumor - mongering and planting false quotations. One is left to wonder, though, how long it will be before the White House slips into full Nixonian mode, attempting to use the IRS and other agencies to crush its opponents.

Which calls to mind a rather old statute, known to old lawyers as "42 USC 1983." It reads in part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress,....

It means that if an official uses his or her office to deprive others of their civil rights, that official can be sued in civil court, and be stripped of the usual protections that attach when someone is attempting to perform his or her official duties in good faith. As I recall, it is an anti-Klan statute, adopted to put an end to thug sheriffs and the like arresting people for such alleged crimes as "driving while black," "helping blacks" or even "just being black."

Of course, the statute does not protect only blacks against official misconduct; it is admirably colorblind.

It would be a profound irony, however, if the first black president were to sink so low that he could be called to account by a law meant to suppress the evils of the Klan.

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