A Threat to the Rule of Law

Posted on November 1, 2013 by


Well, as many know by now, Lois Lerner has been identified as the high-ranking IRS official who illegally sent information about donors associated  with Tea Party-related organizations to the Federal Election Commission.  In addition we heard yesterday that someone in the IRS did leak confidential tax information to the liberal Human Rights Campaign, which immediately released it to the media.  The information included donors’ names and addresses.  Both of these actions were illegal under Federal law.  But some might say that this is just another obscure Federal statute and that after all, it was a minor infraction.  It was not however anything near minor.  In fact these actions are arguably as significant as other major political issues swirling around the nation’s capital.  Why, someone might ask.

Let me begin with history.  In 1972 a few burglars broke into the Democratic National headquarters housed in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC.  No big deal.  Just a bungled burglary.  The perpetrators were arrested within a short time.  All was well, right?  Not so fast.  Why were they there that night?  They were there ultimately–to skip a few layers in the chain of command–because President Richard Nixon was politically paranoid.  He was so worried that he, inter alia, ordered the break-in to gather information on his “enemies.”  Skip some forty years to now and you can see an analogy.  People in the Obama administration wanted information they could use against their political enemies.  Can’t we just let it go?  

We can’t because it is symbolic of something more sinister, just as the Watergate burglary was.  If we allow government at any level to do whatever it wants to punish its alleged enemies the entire edifice of a republican government is threatened. Every citizen is potentially threatened (remember, Nixon was Republican president).  We make the state a true Leviathan with no limits on its power to govern–or oppress, anyone.  Not only does that betray the vision of the Founding Fathers, it violates the very foundation of the principle of a rule of law.  The state becomes the law in that case.  Samuel Rutherford, the Scottish theologian and political thinker, once wrote a book entitled Lex, Rex.  The title translates into “Law is King” as opposed to “The King is Law.”  That title encapsulates the principle that no one in any commonwealth ought to be above the law.  The events we have seen unfolding in the IRS may only be the tip of the iceberg.  They make a mockery of the rule of law and they also have an inevitable chilling effect on political opposition.

When these actions come to light fully and if the facts bear out the initial reports, the courts ought to come down on the IRS with the full weight of the law.  It must be much more than a slap on the wrist.  Government agencies must be made to realize that they are not immune from law any more than the ordinary citizens they so carelessly harass.