Erosion of the attachment to the rule of law is unsettling. The rapid resort to increasingly bold displays of lawlessness mark governments in crisis.
Individual rule, unpredictable and unappealable, is the opposite of the rule of law.
California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is acting in concert with the Legislature to run roughshod over long-standing guarantees and procedures.
A budget was passed, for example, seizing a billion dollars of distributed and banked cigarette taxes that are held by the Golden State’s counties by operation of the initiative, which imposed the tax — Rob Reiner’s decade-old Proposition 10.
Few serious people pretend this is other than an illegal seizure, but the lawsuit brought by the county commissions left to function after the heist may not get to a ruling in time to get the money before it vanishes into the maw of Sacramento’s public-employee-unions-created budgetary black hole. (Disclosure: I serve on Orange County’s commission.)
Similarly Team Brown could not cajole enough Republican legislators to agree to place a tax hike before the voters in an initiative, so the governor and the State Senate’s and Assembly’s little Boss Tweeds are on the brink of simply declaring the pesky supermajority requirement a null set and placing the hikes before the voters in November.
Thus at the same time California is ignoring the will of the people as expressed in an initiative, while abrogating the initiative process to get to a vote of the people. Full circle will be achieved when results of an illegally conducted initiative are illegally put aside to serve some more “urgent” need of next year.
“Addictive it is,” Yoda might say, “to rule this way, but wrong, and for emperors, not republics.”
Brown might want to argue that he is inspired by President Barack Obama’s casual attachment to the rule of law.
The president doesn’t like the new budget deal’s restrictions on the use of czars, for example, so he employs a favored tool of George W. Bush — a signing statement — to alert his negotiating partners that he will be ignoring that part of the agreement. The president is standing by Obamacare despite the decisions of two federal district courts that find it fundamentally flawed in its constitutional overreach.
West Coast and East, the governing elites are increasingly impatient with the inconveniences of rules that impede their policy preferences. So they decree the rules overruled. The key word is “decree.” It is a new approach, in this country at least.
Examiner columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at hughhewitt.com.