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The Rule of Law(lessness)

Updated: Nov 6

A football field is 100 yards long and is 531/3 yards wide. Each team gets 4 downs to gain 10 yards to earn another set of downs. Each team gets 6 points for a touchdown and 3 points for a field goal. There is a rule book which governs the game, which brings structure and meaning to the action on the field. The rule book is important. The refs don’t always make the correct call, and players sometimes get away with penalties, but upholding the rule of law that governs the game, despite errors in application, insures the game’s stability. If there was no rule book, football would just be a bunch guys running around haphazardly, smashing into each other, making up rules as they go, trying to impose their will on the other team. The game of football would devolve into chaos. And that which made the game great would be lost.

Longtime Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already stated that he will bring a vote on her replacement before the election, an opposite stance to the one he took with President Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Republican Senators Collins and Murkowski have publicly stated they will not cast a vote on a Supreme Court nominee prior to the election. Democrats have threatened to eliminate the filibuster rule and stack the Supreme Court with extra liberal justices if there is a vote on a Supreme Court nominee before the election.

My question is: don’t we have rules or at least precedents governing these important decisions? And if we do, why aren’t they being followed? It seems that our politicians are just making up rules and procedures as they go to enhance their own power. Far too often, our leaders are not concerned with what is right, and only concerned with what benefits them. Tearing down or ignoring long standing rules and structures for short term gain will throw us into chaos, and destroy that what makes this country great — the rule of law.

Lawlessness has become the rule of the day, though. Lawlessness has been playing itself out in our streets for the past four months. There have been riots in 48 of our 50 largest cities, resulting in billions of dollars of damage, thousands of small businesses have burned to the ground, and thousands of people have been injured. Everyone knows that this violence is wrong that’s why these riots are being characterized by some in the media as “mostly peaceful” protests.

Yet, more rioting and chaos is being threatened if McConnell brings up a vote on a Supreme Court nominee before the election. I don’t know if what Mitch McConnell is doing is legal or not, but the response should never be violence, never. The ends do not justify the means. But rioters are threatening to burn the whole system to the ground if they do not get the result on Election Day that they want. Where is the rule of law?

What we have been witnessing in our country recently is just as dangerous and antithetical to our founding principles as if a tyrannical dictator seized the reigns of every branch of our government.

During the debates for American independence, British Loyalist Mather Byles asked, "Which is better - to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?" Is this what we have now in our country? Mob rule? Three thousand little tyrants in our streets trampling the rights of fellow citizens?

We must reject lawlessness at every turn, and embrace the rule of law. We must reject the violence and riots in response to Derrick Chauvin killing of George Floyd as much as we reject the killing itself. The answer to injustice is not creating more injustice and more victims. Ironically, over 30 black people have been killed by rioters in response to the unlawful killing of one black man. Where do the family members of those killed go for retribution for the injustice the rioters inflicted on them? Where do those who have been injured go? Where do the store owners who lost their livelihoods go?

But the DAs in many of those cities are refusing to charge the rioters. So, their answer to injustice is not justice, but allow more injustice. Their answer to violation of the law is not to enforce the law, but to embrace lawlessness.

If there are injustices, we have laws in place and a court system designed to deal with them, to give voice to the victim, to protect rights of the minority. We have laws against discrimination based on race, gender, religion, lifestyle that are clear, and the jurisprudence is well-documented and thoroughly precedented. You do not have to riot and loot because you were the victim of discrimination or injustice in this country. There is a process in place to get justice you believe you deserve. Trust the system. Believe in the system. Our system only works if we believe in it and adhere to it. Reinforcing the system, not tearing it down, is the best way to rid our country of injustice.

The more our legal processes are politicized, the more corrupted the solutions will be. Isn’t the preservation of our system of government more important than any short term temporary political gain? Too often the rule of law, the system, the process is sacrificed for politics. The process matters. The process counts.

Never trade our long-term stability for a short-term gain. Shouldn’t we all just follow the law and take the consequences as they come. Winning the short-term battle is irrelevant if we lose our country along the way by losing the rule of law. We all win when the rule of law is upheld, and we will all lose, if we destroy the rule of law.

What would the rioters be winning if they won by tearing down the system? A third world banana republic or a first world totalitarian dictatorship? They would be inheriting a country with a shredded constitution and no concept of the rule of law. They can’t destroy the rule of law for their own gain, and then attempt to rely on it later when it serves their purposes. Will the citizens adhere to their new constitution and laws any more than the previous one the rioters destroyed? Do they believe that they would put forth a better constitution? Is there anything wrong with the substance of our current constitution, freedom, human rights, equal justice?

It’s a very dangerous game being played. Too many people fail to realize how tenuous, how frail, how effective, and how very precious our system of government is. And if they did, they would be relying on it for the justice they desire, not trying to destroy it.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind

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