In September of 2014, Senate Democrats voted to repeal the First Amendment. They were enraged by a Supreme Court decision holding that ordinary constitutional protections for free speech prohibited the government from punishing political activists who had shown a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. This was a straightforward case of classical political speech — critics of Mrs. Clinton arguing that she’d make a poor president and distributing a film making that case — and Democrats, including every single Democrat in the Senate, insisted that that isn’t what the First Amendment is intended to protect.
They started at the beginning, and are making their way down the Bill of Rights, with the Second Amendment and the Fifth Amendment. The Second Amendment holds that “the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” while the Fifth provides that no one may “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” These are what are known as civil rights, meaning the rights associated with citizenship, rights having to do with the relationship between people — or “the People” as the Constitution puts it — and their government.
RELATED: The Democrats’ War on Due Process
The bearing of arms is a sign of citizenship, which is to say, of being a full participant in government who acts through it, as opposed to subjectship, the state of being a passive being who does not act through government but who is acted upon. In that sense, it is like the ability to vote or to be eligible for service in government. Frederick Douglass understood this linkage perfectly, inasmuch as these ideas were much better understood in those more literate days. “A man’s rights rest in three boxes,” he said. “The ballot box, jury box, and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex.” The militias contemplated by the Second Amendment were armed citizen volunteers who could act to use the force of arms to keep the peace in an emergency; they are entitled to act in the peacekeeping role generally reserved for the state because, being the citizens of a republic, they are the state, the very seat of its sovereignty. The formal government is a provisional arrangement (hence regular elections) constituted as a convenience. While the Second Amendment may not codify a “right of revolution,” as some put it, the idea of armed citizens pushing out a government that had become inconvenient, a burden on their liberties rather than a guarantor of them, could hardly have been alien to a group of men who had just risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor doing just that.
The Democratic party has abandoned the notion of procedural justice in pursuit of substantive outcomes demanded by its supporters, the rule of law be damned.
The Fifth Amendment, with its emphasis on process, is an expression of the republican ideal of justice, which is oriented toward process rather than outcomes. The classical liberal view is that justice has two components, a procedural one and a substantive one, and that the law is organized to ensure procedural justice, i.e., that all men are treated equally and that no one is penalized without the formal criteria of the law having been satisfied. This is why even the worst criminals, caught red-handed in the act, are given trials with legal representation, the presentation of evidence, a robust defense, and the consideration of a jury rather than being torn to pieces in the street. Lynching a child molester might satisfy substantive justice in that the offender did indeed deserve to die for his crimes, but it does not satisfy procedural justice, which is what the law concerns itself with. Because mobs are prone to error and easily misled, one of the functions of procedural justice is to protect substantive justice (beyond a reasonable doubt and all that), but it also exists to ensure the orderly functioning of a society under the rule of law, which is why we generally accept the enforcement of unjust or unwise laws (e.g., the prohibition of marijuana) while we work to change them.
The Democrats demand that Americans be stripped of their Second Amendment rights with no attention paid to the Fifth Amendment, to due process. They propose that Americans be stripped of their legal protections under the Bill of Rights even when they have not been charged with, much less convicted of, a crime. They propose that this be done on the basis of a series of secret government lists, whose contents, criteria, and keepers are treated as state secrets.
You cannot call yourself a “liberal” and endorse that. You cannot call yourself a “liberal” and endure that.The Democratic party in 2016 is not a liberal party. It is a party that is working diligently to rescind free-speech rights on one front and to undermine due-process protections on another. It has abandoned the notion of procedural justice in pursuit of substantive outcomes demanded by its supporters, the rule of law be damned. There is a term for the armed pursuit of justice, real or perceived, outside the rule of law, and that term is “lynching.” The Democrats have lynching in their political DNA, and they seem to be unable to evolve past it. Ironically, their abandonment of due process and their flirtation with tyranny are reminders of one of the reasons why the Founders believed it necessary to have an armed citizenry.
That is an unpleasant thing to contemplate. Better that all of us, conservatives and the genuinely liberal alike, should demand the rule of law, due process and all, even for our political opponents, even when we do not like the outcome.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.