The U.S. is in its 118th Congress, and the nation, for the first time in its history, appears weak to the world, divided at home and in unmanageable debt. If the U.S. is to reclaim its standing as an extraordinary nation, every citizen needs to reflect on how the federal government changed the Constitution. The federal government is now the master, and its citizens are the servants. Citizens have exchanged positions with the government by electing Congresses that are unwilling to act as an institutional check on the President. The result, the rule of law is what the President determines is the law.
Moreover, since the founding of the Republic, the Supreme Court has been aggressively complicit in this power grab. It has approved almost every law expanding federal power and protecting the federal government’s abuse of power. The expansion of federal authority has created a legal system that exempts the government from the laws it imposes on citizens.
The rule of law is not a rule or a law.
Citizens believe we live in a rule-of-law society, and we are all equal before the law, including government officials. This concept is described in many ways, such as “the law is the king,” “no man is above the law,” or “we are a government of laws, not men.”
We are taught these concepts, so we believe our government will be fair to us. Moreover, if our government breaks the law, it will receive the same treatment under our legal system as any lawbreaker. A very comforting concept to the naïve. The “rule of law” is not a law of any kind. It is not part of our Constitution, and it has no binding effect on anything. It is merely a clever phrase or, more appropriately, a fable repeated to make the government sound fair and accountable while persuading citizens to obey its every command.
Other than the undefined, vague limits placed on the government by the Constitution or laws passed by Congress, there is scant mention of how our legal system applies to the operation of government when it acts illegally, even tyrannically. The fact is the federal government is not held accountable other than occasionally being voted out of office. It operates for its own benefit. The doctrine of Sovereign Immunity protects those running government from being subjected to citizens seeking recourse against it for unlawful actions or even crimes.
Sovereign immunity is not written into our Constitution.
Sovereign immunity is not written into our Constitution. It is merely a doctrine that was not even recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court until 90 years after the ratification of our Constitution. While the Supreme Court protects federal power by applying the doctrine, it struggles to articulate any constitutional or statutory foundation for its use. The doctrine currently holds that the federal government cannot be sued without its consent. It bars all lawsuits against the federal government or its officers unless Congress enacts a law that clearly expresses its intent to lift the bar.
With absolute immunity from suit, unless otherwise legislated, there are few mechanisms to hold the United States government accountable for its illegal actions. The government waives its civil immunity in matters for small claims on its purse, such as torts, breaches of contract, copyright violations, tax disputes, and violations of civil rights when government officials are acting under the color of law. By establishing the Court of Federal Claims and the Judgment Fund, the government sets out specific mechanisms for citizens to seek monetary damages or injunctive relief against the government. The Government Accountability Office, however, notes the waiver of sovereign immunity is not enough to assume the victim will be paid. Specifically, there can be no payment without a congressional appropriation.
Since the government is immune from civil and criminal liability, the only control of the federal government is another branch checking the powers of an abusive branch. When the respective branches of our government protect each other, the federal government is the master of the nation and its citizens the servants.
Examples of the federal government’s abuse of law.
The corruption of the U.S. legal system through the assertion of sovereign immunity is clearly illustrated when the Executive issues illegal orders and the president’s party in Congress has sufficient votes to block all checks on Executive power. In this circumstance, the Executive is literally free to violate the law with impunity as Congress protects Executive overreach. President Biden proves this point daily by refusing to enforce immigration laws. Such avoidance fosters open illegal immigration and drug and sex trafficking into the country.
Another example is the President’s son. Based on the information on his son’s personal laptop, the President is very likely personally compromised and has perhaps compromised the national security of the nation due to direct dealing with nations hostile to the U.S. Yet, the Department of Justice protects the president and his son by refusing to prosecute massive wrongdoing that would put the average citizen in prison for years. Due to the Executive’s control over who is prosecuted, the government is free to do whatever it wants, and citizens have no legal mechanism to restrain it.
A Navy officer took photographs of a nuclear submarine he worked on and was imprisoned for improperly handling national security secrets. During the same time period, a presidential candidate of the same party as the sitting President maintained an illegal secret server in her home. The unprotected server illegally received classified security information, which placed our nation’s secrets at risk of being obtained by foreign governments. The candidate was never prosecuted.
Congress issues a subpoena to the DOJ for information on its false filings before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The DOJ refused to provide Congress with the documents to avoid embarrassment and likely the acknowledgment of its criminal activity. By refusing to provide such information, the constitutional checks on the other branches of government are rendered meaningless by the Executive branch.
The FBI regularly demanded Twitter, a private company, ban what it deemed misinformation on its site, notwithstanding the fact that it was the FBI spreading the misinformation. While these actions are a violation of the First Amendment rights of citizens and perhaps direct election interference, the Executive will never prosecute itself or its corrupt agents carrying out his demands.
The most recent is the Trump series of prosecutions. No matter how negative one may think of Trump, prosecutions based on “Get Trump” are, as Professor Dershowitz asserts, a very significant threat to civil liberties, due process, and the constitutional rule of law.
Without an Independent Congress, there is no power to check an abusive Executive or even a tyrant.
Unless the President of the U.S. agrees to hold the federal government accountable for crimes or Congress is able to check the powers of the abusive Executive, most likely through impeachment, there are no other mechanisms for holding the federal government accountable for its crimes. The House of Representatives can always impeach an Executive that acts illegally; however, removing the Executive is unlikely since it requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Unless the President’s party votes to convict, the Executive remains in office, no matter the criminality of the conduct.
Certainly, citizens, we can speak out, protest, demonstrate, sometimes complain at government meetings, or send nasty letters to our elected officials. In the end, however, they will be ignored if the government wants to ignore them. Or arrested if the government wants them arrested, as illustrated by the FBI’s efforts to intimidate parents seeking answers from the Loudoun County School Board that covered up the actions of a sexual predator who assaulted a student in their school.
Citizens could emulate the peaceful resistance or nationwide strikes that Mahatma Gandhi led in India. Unfortunately, if peaceful resistance is undertaken, it is likely, the federal government will use the tactics of the British Empire by brutally attacking citizens. A recent incident supports this proposition. In a small Pennsylvania town, twenty heavily armed FBI agents, with weapons drawn, supported by a fleet of armored vehicles, arrested a pro-life activist at his home while playing with his seven children in the front yard. The crime was not disclosed by the FBI, but press reports suggest the person was arrested for pushing a man who was verbally harassing one of his young children. State authorities refused to prosecute the alleged “crime.” The person claiming to be pushed filed a criminal complaint in state court but failed to show up at trial. The case was dismissed. The FBI, however, targets certain groups, like pro-life advocates, Catholics attending Latin mass, and parents who speak out at school board meetings, asserting them to be domestic terrorists, yet, leftist radicals who burn down cities are never prosecuted. The federal government views these arsonists as exercising free speech rights.
The only power “We the people” have is our vote for Congress.
The only power “We the people” have to control the federal government is our power to vote for members of Congress. We do not vote for the President; that is done by the Electoral College and a convoluted quilt of state voting laws and state Secretaries of State. All federal judges are appointed, as are the millions of nameless bureaucrats that make laws every day by regulating almost every aspect of society.
Our right to vote for members of Congress is extraordinarily powerful. It is a legal mechanism for a peaceful revolution. Citizens have the power to vote out the entire House of Representatives every two years and all elected officials over six years. To restrain the federal government, citizens must elect a Congress that is a trustee of the Constitution and a fiduciary to the institution in which they serve. Only by electing a Congress that is willing to check the powers of the other branches can Congress protect citizens. Until “We the people” elect a Congress that checks Executive power and judicial super legislating, we are accepting that –the federal government is our master, and we are its servants.
William L. Kovacs has served as senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, chief counsel to a congressional committee, and a partner in law D.C. law firms. His book Reform the Kakistocracy is the winner of the 2021 Independent Press Award for Political/Social Change. He can be contacted at [email protected]