Power Without Responsibility: Tyranny and the Supremacy Clause

Going through my readings for American Politics yesterday, I came across something absolutely shocking. A naked abuse of government power that undermines the very pillars of a federal society.

I do not know much about the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff in which Vicki Weaver was shot by an FBI sniper, under objectionable circumstances. All I knew was that many considered the shooting to be murder, yet the agent in question had not been punished. Now I know why.

Hans Sherrer writes in "The Inhumanity of Government Bureaucracies" (The Independent Review Fall 2000) that the state charges of involuntary manslaughter brought against the agent were dismissed by Judge Edward Lodge:
Judge Lodge ruled that under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution federal agents cannot be criminally prosecuted by a state for violating a state law while performing their assigned governmental duties (Sherrer 258).
Full stop. Apparently, a Federal agent may now willfully break any state or local law he chooses, and get away with it so long as he is "on the job." Note that there was absolutely no reference to the guilt or innocence of the agent in question, only to the right—the right!—of a state to charge him for a crime he allegedly committed on its own soil.

So who is left to enforce justice on Federal agents? Why, themselves! Presuming, of course, that the Federal justice code is comprehensive enough to cover all acts of wrongdoing, which it most certainly is not. Indeed, this is by design; most aspects of civil or criminal law are rightly judged to be the domain of the states, and not subject to the meddling of the Federal government. There is no federal statute for involuntary manslaughter; thus, the government could not charge the aforementioned FBI agent with an equivalent offense, even if it felt like doing so.

How abhorrent.

Is the United States a country of laws, or of men? Is our code of justice so arbitrary and slanted that we peasants are subject to the full force of the law, while our Federal masters are immune? How is that justice? An organization wielding the full force of government, and yet unrestrained by that same government, becomes a fit tool for oppression and tyranny. And it need not even be an explicit program of tyranny either, merely the cumulative effects of the petty, self-serving actions of many individuals.

Worse, this same sort of immunity is theoretically enjoyed by all government bureaucrats, regardless of position (Imbler v. Pachtman 1976). A member of a bureaucracy suffers no consequences for his actions, and is trained to believe that the bureaucratic end justifies the means. It is now a valid defense in an American courtroom to say, "I was just following orders"—provided you work for the United States government.

What will be the reducto ad absurdium of such a situation? Simply that everyone in the country will want to work for a government bureaucracy. Moreover, anyone in a position of power will seek to use that power to the best of his ability to advance his own position, and to torment his enemies. There is no cost of doing so, after all, and significant benefits. If such a legal monstrosity is allowed to continue, we will create a society filled with irresponsible, amoral, sadistic parasites.

Is it really that bad? Fortunately, not yet. For the most part, our government is still run by decent people. But they are steadily being displaced by the professional status-grabbers, who are attracted to the idea of power without responsibility. For the sake of America and all who are in it, we must reimpose the rule of law on the guardians as well as the guarded, so that no one must suffer unrequited injustice, simply because the offender is wearing a badge. If these scum are hiding behind the Supremacy Clause, then let it be amended.

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