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Monday, February 01, 2016

Abusing Civil Rights Definitions

By Douglas V. Gibbs

The issue of Civil Rights is a sticky one. While few are generally against the granting of Civil Rights to groups who are considered “wronged,” or “oppressed,” supporters of expanding the scope and powers of the federal government have used the concept of Civil Rights as a tool to encourage and nurture other concepts such as nationalism, statism, and Judicial Review. Through bureaucratic processes and judicial fiat the very character of Civil Rights has altered. Issues that can be exploited in a manner that benefits the statist agenda are being redefined as Civil Rights. Though the end goal is bondage, the statists shroud their efforts with labels that proclaim freedom. Through the efforts of the statists the very concept of freedom itself has been redefined to mean “do whatever you want despite any standard of virtues or morality.” In turn, common sense, and common virtue, have been compromised, replaced by concepts like political correctness, hate crime laws, secular humanism, sexual lifestyles, and #blacklivesmatter.

Slavery served as the starting point for the agenda. There is no doubt that slavery was among the great sins in American History, and one might add, in World History. The emancipation of the slaves was an inevitability, thank God, though I am not so sure “war” was necessary to achieve it. While the abolition of slavery was a good thing, and a necessary eventuality in the advancement of any society, through the good deed of abolishing slavery, the seeds of federal supremacy, and the death of State Sovereignty, were watered and nurtured. Historical figures like Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall had already planted the seeds, but men like Abraham Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens ensured that those growing tendrils of authoritarianism germinated.

In tune with the federal government’s denial of State Sovereignty and the death of localism, the federal government proceeded to occupy the Southern States, and use military force to compel them into compliance. The federal government created a legal system that proclaimed it was designed to protect the Civil Rights of those who were once in slavery, and the leaders in Washington D.C. were willing to use military force to ensure the Southern States complied.

The South’s refusal to change with the times was confirmed by their new State Constitutions, and various State laws, that maintained segregation, and inequality. In the minds of the statists of the time-period, and historians that look back upon that period, the South’s refusal to behave necessitated federal government intrusion into State matters in order to ensure that the Civil Rights of the former slaves were maintained. It was a trying time in American History, both for a people seeking freedom after centuries of forced servitude, and for the limiting principles of the United States Constitution the Framers so carefully crafted in 1787.

The concept of Separation of Powers, especially as it pertains to the concept’s application between the federal government and the States, was being reinvented. While the concept was originally designed to prevent one person, or part of the government, from becoming too strong, the federal government has used the principle of Separation of Powers to send a message to the States that they have no business interfering with the work the federal government is achieving in the name of “the common good.”

The battle regarding a Separation of Powers has been waged constantly on the battlefield of Civil Rights. Shortly after the American Civil War, after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Tennessee Democrat Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s Vice President, took a crack at the presidency.

Andrew Johnson took the oath of office on April 15, 1865. The readmission of the southern rebel States into the Union remained to be accomplished, and the manner in which that readmission should take place was a highly disputed issue. The Civil Rights of the newly emancipated slaves was a part of Johnson’s great conundrum. Should the former Confederate States be readmitted? And if so, after the readmission, what rights should the freedmen, or ex-slaves, have?

Johnson’s execution of his plan for reconstructing the South commenced immediately after he took the oath for President of the United States. Johnson pardoned all rebels except Confederate leaders, restored all rebel property except for slaves, and he authorized each rebel State to call a convention of white delegates to draw up a new State Constitution. Once a new State Constitution was written, and approved, a new State government could then be formed, and the State could apply for readmission to the Union.

Each and every one of the new State Constitutions disallowed Blacks to vote in their States. President Johnson had no problem with the idea of not allowing the former slaves to vote.

Johnson’s comment regarding the refusal of the Southern States to allow the emancipated slaves to vote was that if Blacks were allowed to vote in the South, “It would breed a war of races.”

The United States Congress was dominated by the Republicans in both Houses. The legislators were outraged by Johnson’s approval of what was going on in the South. The Republicans saw the same men who had led the rebellion returning to power throughout the South, and knew that nothing good could come of it. As a result, "black codes" were being passed. These laws that were contradictory to the Civil Rights of the former slaves would add to the difficulties for Blacks to work in certain jobs, own land, or even quit a white employer.

An even greater concern was that President Johnson was continuing Lincoln’s lead of acting through executive fiat despite congressional concerns, or legislation. The power being used by President Johnson had allowed the President, on his own authority, to establish a reconstruction plan for the South despite the protests of the members of Congress. Republicans believed establishing a Reconstruction Plan was the job of Congress, and Congress alone.

The Republican Congress passed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill in February of 1866. The new proposed law called for the distribution of land to the newly emancipated slaves, provided schools for their children, and set up military courts in Southern States to protect the Civil Rights of Blacks in the South. President Johnson vetoed the bill, calling it unconstitutional and too expensive. The Republicans failed to garner enough votes to override his veto.

Johnson accused the Republicans in Congress of being “new rebels” who were plotting to take over the federal government. He charged that Congress was acting in a traitorous manner in a vein similar to that of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate leader. "Give us the names!" a voice in the crowd shouted. Johnson named three Republican leaders of Congress as being a part of the rebellion, and in response the Republicans in Congress began to unite in their opposition to Johnson, calling him "King Andy."

In March of 1866 Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill. The proposed law declared the former slaves to be U.S. citizens and gave them the right to make contracts, sue, be witnesses in court, and own land. Johnson vetoed the bill, claiming it would "operate in favor of the colored and against the white race." The Republicans overrode his veto by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, marking the first time in American history that Congress had achieved the overturning of a presidential veto.

The Republican majority in Congress, though united in their opposition to Johnson, failed to find a single reconstruction plan for the South that they agreed upon. Some Republicans supported Johnson's program, while others sought a more conservative way to readmit the former Confederate States. Some desired that the Southern States should be treated as "conquered provinces." Despite the disagreements regarding reconstruction, the Civil Rights of Blacks remained at the center of each of the discussions.

An elder statesman, Thaddeus Stevens, had his own radical ideas regarding reconstruction. The member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania believed the Rebel States were no longer a part of the union, and had illegally removed themselves from the social contract known as the United States Constitution, and therefore, they should be treated as if they were U.S. territories. As punishment for bringing about the War Between the States, Stevens suggested that the federal government should confiscate the property of these traitors to the Union, and give the land to the newly freed Blacks (40 acres for each adult male). According to Stevens, this would break the back of the old slave-holding class and prevent it from regaining political power in the South.

Stevens, and the supporters of his plan to protect the Civil Rights of the former slaves, began as a minority in Congress, but they gained steam after Stevens successfully worked to build a coalition of House members and senators to deal with all reconstruction matters. The Joint Committee on Reconstruction consisted of nine Representatives and six Senators, most of them hand-picked by Stevens. Through his committee, Stevens created a powerful voice in determining Congressional action on reconstruction. President Johnson called the Joint Committee the "French Directory," a reference to the dictatorship by committee that emerged during the French Revolution.

Congress, continuing to buck against Johnson, passed a constitutional amendment that would become the 14th Amendment. The amendment begins with a Citizenship Clause, with the intent to establish without any argument that the newly emancipated slaves were all citizens of the United States. The 14th Amendment also sought to prohibit the Southern States from depriving any and all citizens of "equal protection of the laws." Thus began the long and difficult road to establish the Civil Rights of Blacks.

The President has no say when it comes to the proposition of amendments, so Johnson could do nothing but condemn the proposed 14th Amendment.

The Civil Rights movement for the former slaves was then kicked up a notch during the Summer of 1866, when a group of whites and blacks attempted to hold a political convention in New Orleans. A mob of ex-Confederate soldiers attacked the convention members. The New Orleans police not only failed to protect them, but actually joined in the attack. Nearly 40 convention members, mostly black men, were killed. The "New Orleans massacre" shocked Northerners, and solidified the idea that the federal government must take control of the Southern States, to ensure that the former confederates ceased to misbehave.

Though no Southern State ratified the 14th Amendment on its first try, the Northern States strongly supported it. Congress then passed a reconstruction law much stronger than Johnson’s weak plan. It was described at the time as being "written with a steel pen made out of a bayonet." The law abolished all Southern State governments set up under Johnson's program, and replaced them with five military districts, each commanded by an army officer. Martial Law was authorized, and the occupation of the South by the federal government, with federal troops and military courts, began. President Johnson vetoed the law, saying that it would create an "absolute despotism" over the South, but Congress promptly overrode his veto.

Later laws by Congress required each Southern State to hold new constitutional conventions, but this time the delegations were required to be made up of both white and black delegates. The new State Constitutions were required, by Congress, to include the right to vote for all black adult males. Then, Congress directed the Southern States to ratify the 14th Amendment before they would be allowed to apply for readmission to the Union. Johnson vetoed every one of the laws Congress was passing, and each and every time Congress overrode his veto.

After establishing their own Reconstruction Laws, Congress turned to President Johnson. In an effort to get the runaway executive under control, the Republicans passed the Tenure of Office Act, which prohibited the President from firing any appointed government official, even his own cabinet members, without Senate approval.

Johnson claimed the act violated the Constitution's concept of Separation of Powers, and vetoed the Tenure in Office Act as an unconstitutional invasion of his executive power. Congress, however, overturned his veto.

In 1868, after President Johnson attempted to fire his Secretary of War without Senate approval for assisting Congress in undermining his reconstruction policies, the House of Representatives filed articles of impeachment.

According to those seeking to impeach Johnson, the President refused to cooperate or compromise over the Civil Rights of Blacks, and the reconstruction of the South.

The impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate lasted over a month, and after it was all over, the Senate failed by one vote to convict Johnson and remove him from office.

Despite the failure to remove Johnson, military occupation of the South remained, and Johnson had only about nine months left in his term.

The 14th Amendment, in the name of Civil Rights, enabled the federal government, following the end of Johnson’s presidency, to strengthen its power against the States. In the minds of those supporting the expansion of federal control over the States, it was all for the common good. The States in the South could not be trusted to be fair to Blacks, and therefore, the federal government would need to force the Southern States to behave.

As a result of the assault on State Sovereignty, power-brokers seeking to expand the scope and power of the federal government have taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by the concept of Civil Rights.

Natural Rights could easily be compromised in the name of Civil Rights. Anything considered a Civil Right receives special consideration, a kind of “preferential” treatment. Any group seeking to become a “protected minority” under the perceived benevolent hand of an all-powerful federal government must only convince the culture, and political class, that they too are simply seeking their own place-setting at the Civil Rights table.

As a result of federal intrusion, and newly emerging federal definitions, the enumerated rights in the Bill of Rights are at risk.

The 1st Amendment was written to prohibit Congress from passing laws that would infringe upon the Natural Rights of religion, speech, the press, assembly (association) and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In the name of Civil Rights, however, some groups have succeeded in convincing the federal government to limit these Natural Rights. To speak out against the attempt to compromise our First Amendment Rights is seen as being a “phobia,” and through laws designed to ensure “peace and safety,” federal judges are allowing indefinite detention of Americans without due process if they are seen by the courts as being persons who are compromising the Civil Rights of other persons.

On the books are laws that allow the Secret Service to arrest anyone protesting near the President (or other designated folks), laws that allow mass spying by federal agencies, and now the federal government has discovered that in order to carry out authoritarian tyranny, they only need to be the definers of what is a Civil Right, and who is considered to be a potential domestic terrorist.

Through the federal government the same agencies that have the power to define what is, or is not, a Civil Right, also are the ones who are given the power to keep surveillance on Americans, and to choose who may be detained without due process.

Gun control and gun rights advocates have no qualm with Civil Rights issues in general, but have a tendency to be reviled by federal intrusion into State matters. These supporters of the 2nd Amendment, more often than not, stand against the federal practice of making up its own Civil Rights definitions.

As a result, those who support an expansion of the scope and power of the federal government view gun owners as the opposition, and fail to recognize gun ownership as an individual right.

The emerging conventional wisdom is that Civil Rights trumps all other rights. If something is labeled as a Civil Right, no religion has a right to believe in a manner that opposes the federal government’s definitions of what is a Civil Right. Any speech or press that opposes the federal government’s definition of a particular Civil Right is considered to be “hate speech.” Any assembly of persons for the purpose of opposing the federal government’s definition of a Civil Right is considered to be seditious. Private businesses who refuse to serve any person protected by the federal government’s definition of a Civil Right can be punished by federal law for daring to stand against the federal government’s definition of a Civil Right. Any petition, law or State Constitutional Amendment opposing the federal government’s definition of a Civil Right will be struck down in federal court. Those who seek to arm themselves to protect themselves against the rising authoritarianism of the federal government are considered to be potential domestic terrorists, and any federal intrusion into that person’s life is considered reasonable, and necessary, for the common good, and the protection of the Civil Rights of others as defined by the federal government. Failure to comply will result in the citizen being defined as either a radical extremist, or a sufferer of a mental health issue – thus, nullifying that person’s right to keep and bear arms, and voiding any other associated privileges, in the eyes of the federal government.

As a result, the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights are also under assault. We no longer feel secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. Law enforcement agencies are going too far with lockdowns and involuntary door-to-door searches. The federal government has long abandoned any attempt to refrain from depriving people of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Property is being taken for private purposes, or in the name of “environmental conservation.” It is becoming more common for the federal government to prosecute cases based upon “secret evidence” that they don’t show to the defendant, or sometimes even the judge hearing the case. The government uses “secret evidence” to spy on Americans, and to prosecute Americans for leaking information, or for terrorism charges. And through the rising system of government tyranny through new definitions of Civil Rights for groups that have voiced that their desire to destroy the American System, federal government officials and prosecutors are using the legal system to crush dissent and to silence whistleblowers.

The 9th Amendment provides that people have other rights that may not be enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and the federal government is using the 9th Amendment to create new rights, government-given rights, that defy the definition of rights which centers around Natural Law. As indicated in the Declaration of Independence, we are “endowed” by our “Creator” with “certain unalienable rights.” That means that our rights are God-given, not government given. Therefore, if our rights are God-given, then they must be God-defined, and that goes for the definition of what a Civil Right is, as well.

Rather than refraining itself from intruding upon our rights, or imposing itself upon local issues, through the guise of Civil Rights, the federal government has become a threat to freedom. The government is no longer acting with the “consent of the governed”, nor is it abiding by the limiting principles established on the pages of the United States Constitution. The federal government is engaging in the authoritarian activities the Founding Fathers fought against, and much of it is in the name of protecting the “federal government defined” Civil Rights of a few select groups.

Recognizing the assault on personal liberties the expansion of the federal government has created, conservative groups and organizations have vowed to “resist the growth of federal power.” Included in the fight to restore the republic, and resist the tyranny being perpetuated in the name of Civil Rights, is the proposal of a constitutional amendment enabling the States to overturn federal law with a two-thirds vote by the States. The "Repeal Amendment" was originally promoted by Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell in September of 2010, and passed the Virginia House of Delegates in January of 2011. In late 2015, the Repeal Amendment re-emerged, enumerated on a list of suggested amendments by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The list accompanied Governor Abbott’s call for an Article V. Convention.

Proponents of the “Repeal Amendment” claim that it provides a check on the ever-expanding federal government, protects against Congressional overreach, and will get the government working for the people again. In turn, it could be used to also rebut the Civil Rights definitions being handed down by the federal government, enabling the States to reestablish their rightful role in the American System as sovereign, autonomous, unique, and individual entities.

People who call themselves “progressives” claim that the “Repeal Amendment” is contrary to what the United States Constitution represents. If conservatives are so adamant about how perfect the Constitution is as written, why would they seek to change it in such a drastic way?

In reality, the amendment supports authorities that the States already possess. The United States Congress already has the authority to defund, and impeach a President that is acting unconstitutionally; and using the Exceptions Clause in Article III, Congress may use legislation to make null and void any federal court ruling that they believe is contrary to the constitutional authorities granted to the federal government.

The States, also, possess authorities to stop a federal government using its self-proclaimed federal supremacy to force its own definition of Civil Rights upon the States. Nullification, and an Article V. Convention, along with grassroots efforts through local actions, can be used to disarm, and reverse, unconstitutional activities and definitions presented by the federal government.

The fears of the statists that inhabit the liberal left political ideology is that something like the Repeal Amendment, or recognizing State Sovereignty, will allow the States to misbehave again, like they did throughout the time period surrounding the War Between the States. The statist’s claim is that if the States are given the kind of freedom they had originally under the United States Constitution, they would betray the Civil Rights of a great number of protected groups, and it would set this country back more than a century.

While the liberal left statists see the desire to embrace original intent as an unsafe fetish that would ultimately undo all of our advances to protect Civil Rights, those that support the Constitution see Civil Rights as a cultural issue that localism must work out for itself, without the forceful intrusions of an authoritarian federal government that claims its definitions of what a Civil Right is are the only acceptable definitions, regardless of what the governed say, or the churches preach.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

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