Libertarian Rand Paul Is Suddenly Very Concerned About The Right To
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is usually described as a doctrinaire
libertarian, and in many of his policy complaints, this is reliably
borne out. For example, Paul is of the opinion that the Americans With
Disabilities Act is an egregious infringement on liberty, when the
"common sense solution" is obviously to herd wheelchair-bound workers
to the first floor of every office building.
That's what Paul believes and he usually sticks to it. So I'm as
surprised as the next guy to learn that Paul now believes that certain
people should be jailed for merely exercising their right to assemble
under the Constitution of the United States.
According to Alex Seitz-Wald, Paul's sudden shift on civil liberties
all went down on Sean Hannity's radio show last Friday:
PAUL: I'm not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on
their religion, but I would take into account where they've been
traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account
whether or not they've been going to radical political speeches by
religious leaders. It wouldn't be that they are Islamic. But if
someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the
violent overthrow of our government, that's really an offense that we
should be going after -- they should be deported or put in prison.
Hey, now! Suddenly we're deporting and jailing people for attending
speeches? Um ...
Paul's suggestion that people be imprisoned or deported for merely
attending a political speech would be a fairly egregious violation on
the First Amendment, not to mention due process. What if someone
attended a radical speech as a curious bystander? Should they too be
thrown in prison? And who defines what is considered so "radical" that
it is worth imprisonment?
These are good questions. I'd hate to see Rand Paul get hoisted with
his own petard. (Dearie me! Am I even still allowed to talk about
petards in public?)
Well, what do the courts say about the matter? Here's Glenn Greenwald:
Indeed, the First Amendment not only protects the mere "attending" of
a speech "promoting the violent overthrow of our government," but also
the giving of such a speech. The government is absolutely barred by
the Free Speech clause from punishing people even for advocating
violence. That has been true since the Supreme Court's unanimous 1967
decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which overturned the criminal
conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who had threatened violence
against political officials in a speech.
See, that's what I thought. Naturally, I have no doubt that somewhere
out there someone is assembled in a gathering of free citizens,
listening to someone discuss the violent overthrow of the government.
I'm not unconcerned about that, but the standard libertarian line I
grew up with was, "Those who would give up essential liberty to
purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor
At any rate, there is already a criminal statute that penalizes the
agreement of a group to commit a criminal act -- it's called
"conspiracy." It mainly focuses on persons who are actively and
overtly participating in plans to commit a crime. I'm guessing that
one good way to evaluate whether or not a "radical group" is going to
escalate from merely talking about overthrowing the government to
actually pursuing the furtherance of such a plan is to let people
freely attend that group's speeches without fear that they'll be
clapped in irons.