Politics & Policy

The Bill of Rights Is Not ‘above’ Any Government Leader’s ‘Pay Grade’ 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy takes part in a summit in New York City, October 17, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Governor Phil Murphy’s comments represent an ideology that is completely unacceptable for a government leader in the United States.

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy said he “wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights” while implementing social-distancing measures — writing off any constitutional considerations as being “above [his] pay grade.”

Murphy made the comments during a Fox News interview with Tucker Carlson on Wednesday night, in response to Carlson questioning the constitutionality of his executive order. “That’s above my pay grade, Tucker,” Murphy responded. “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this. . . . We went to the scientists who said people have to stay away from each other.”

As anyone with even the most basic understanding of the United States government should know, Murphy could not have been more wrong with this answer.

Now, to be clear, I’m not going to get into the weeds here in terms of analyzing any state’s social-distancing restrictions in terms of their merits, their constitutionality, or anything else. What I do want to focus on, rather, is the stomach-churning level of flagrant flippancy that Murphy displayed when admitting that he hadn’t even bothered to consider a sacred obligation.

Make no mistake: If you are an elected official in the United States of America, considering the Constitution when you govern is never “above your pay grade.” It is, in fact, a major reason that you’re even getting paid at all.

Again: This is an absolute fact. It’s not up for debate, and what’s more, it’s not as if Murphy had no way to know so. Rather, before officially beginning his tenure as governor, Murphy himself took an oath of office that doesn’t just state but actually begins with the following: “I, _____, elected governor of the State of New Jersey, do solemnly promise and swear, that I will support the Constitution of the United States . . .”

In other words? In January 2018, Murphy solemnly promised, he solemnly swore, to uphold the Constitution — and now, in April 2020, he is declaring the exact same duty that he’d vowed to hold sacred to be “above [his] pay grade.”

The truth is, Murphy’s comments represent an ideology that is completely unacceptable for a government leader in the United States. The philosophy of governance that he espoused on Wednesday was that not of an elected official in a free country but of a tyrant. That is, after all, what tyranny is — a system in which the people in power control citizens without any regard for their rights.

Again, I am not slamming Murphy for saying he listened to what scientists had to say when deciding how to best protect his constituents from the threats of a global pandemic. Coronavirus is, for many, a matter of life and death — so I am glad to hear that he’d been seeking expert guidance in making these decisions.

Here’s my question for Murphy, though: Why do you think that those scientists couldn’t just directly put all of these social-distancing measures in place themselves? The answer, of course, is that Murphy absolutely did have his own role to play in the process — and that is, in large part, to do exactly what he himself swore that he would do when he agreed to take this job.

Now, I certainly do understand that elected officials are individuals, which means that they’re going to have varying views about what the Constitution says in terms of how they can and/or should govern. The fact that they must consider the Constitution, however, is actually not contestable, questionable, or otherwise open to interpretation. It is a nonnegotiable necessity, and writing it off as anything less is a glaring affront to our Founding values.


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