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Dear Washington Post: Ron Paul Is Not a Champion of Civil Liberty

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Washington Post "factchecker" Josh Hicks gives Ron Paul high marks for consistency. Hicks claims that Paul's proposals and voting record are 100 percent consistent with his political rhetoric. This conclusion, however, is woefully incorrect.

Ron Paul (along with his many fans) describes himself as a champion of civil liberties. Paul also embraces an extremely narrow conception of federal power. These two positions, however, do not always co-exist peacefully. Consequently, Paul has sponsored legislation that would imperil the very civil liberties he claims to endorse.

Consider for example Paul's sponsorship of the We the People Act. This bill, if passed, would have dreadful consequences for the protection of civil liberties. The proposal would prohibit the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from deciding cases challenging state laws that implicate:

1. the free exercise or establishment of religion;

2. the right of privacy, including issues of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction; or

3. the right to marry without regard to sex or sexual orientation where based upon equal protection of the laws.

The proposal would also prohibit the federal courts from issuing rulings that "interfere[] with the legislative functions or administrative discretion of the states." Also, the bill, if passed, would "negate[] as binding precedent on the state courts any federal court decision that relates to an issue removed from federal jurisdiction by this Act."

Let's sort through the legalese. The bill would curtail civil liberties in several ways. First, it would remove all cases involving freedom of religion and the establishment of religion from the federal courts. This could harm liberty in a couple of ways. For example, if a state infringed an individual's or church's right to exercise religion, the federal courts could not intervene to redress the wrong. Only state courts could do so. On the other hand, if an individual claimed that the state had unlawfully subjected him or her to religious practice (say, by mandating that a student pray a Christian prayer in school or profess a belief in God), that individual could not pursue redress in the federal courts. Because states still violate these constitutional rights, Paul's proposal would allow these practices to remain in place, unless state courts sided with plaintiffs.

The bill's most dangerous provision would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction in right of privacy cases. The Supreme Court has held that the Constitution establishes a right of privacy. This is a great example of libertarianism. Unless individual behavior harms another person or the public, then the government needs a pressing reason for regulating it. Although the right of privacy protects individual liberty, Paul would keep the federal courts out of this important constitutional area.

As a consequence, federal courts could not decide the constitutionality of state laws that unlawfully regulate (or even prohibit) the use of contraception, restrict or ban abortion, or that deny marriage to same-sex couples. States could also ban adult consensual oral sex, anal sex, premarital sex and a host of other practices that fall within the right of privacy without any check from the federal courts.

Another interesting aspect of the We the People Act is the selective exclusion of issues from federal court review. Among the many subjects adjudicated in federal courts, Paul isolates the right of privacy and the religion clauses. In so doing, he is selecting constitutional provisions involved in progressive civil liberties cases with which the religious right vehemently disagrees. This is rather convenient, and hardly accidental, for a Republican candidate. Paul's selective libertarianism would be a boon for social conservatives who deplore the exercise of individual liberty when it conflicts with their religious extremism. Paul has effectively sided with the religious right in a cultural war. This is not a libertarian outcome.

Furthermore, the portion of the bill that would negate the applicability of any precedent prohibited by the statute would mean the immediate demise of Roe v. Wade -- a case that Paul the purported libertarian opposes. It would also mean that many other important Supreme Court rulings, such as cases protecting parental rights, family privacy, the right to marry, and the right to refuse medical treatment would suddenly lose all value as precedent in cases challenging state laws.

Moreover, the bill's vague language that would prohibit federal courts from issuing any ruling that would interfere with the "legislative functions or administrative discretion of the states" could enable dangerous restraints on civil liberty. For example, if a state legislature prohibited women from voting, the bill could prevent a court from enjoining the statute. While the court might find this law unconstitutional, it could not enjoin enforcement of it. Enforcement of rights, however, is essential to liberty itself. Without remedies, rights have no value.

Finally, even though Paul's opposition to the War on Drugs and various practices involving the U.S. military (like indefinite detention, etc.) is clearly rooted in libertarianism, his preference for state protection of rights would imperil liberty. So, while Paul opposes the federal government's War on Drugs, Paul is silent with respect to similar wars being waged in the states. This silence is striking in light of the fact that states prosecute most crimes in this nation. As president, however, Paul would not question impediments to civil liberty in the states. This omission, though consistent with his extreme views of federalism, make it impossible for him to wear the libertarian label. Ron Paul is not a champion of liberty. The Washington Post is wrong.

An earlier version of this post appears on Dissenting Justice.

Also, some of this discussion is drawn from a previous article on Huffington Post: Five Reasons Why Ron Paul Should NEVER Become President.

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