Democrats seem surprised that Rep. Tom McClintock (RCalif.), a libertarian-leaning conservative, favors the abolition of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that often shields police officers from liability for violating people's constitutional rights. The Democrat opposing McClintock in this year's election, Brynne Kennedy, claims his position on qualified immunity, which she calls "a welcome surprise," implies that he should support the rest of her agenda, including such completely unrelated issues as Medicare, Social Security, and price controls for prescription drugs. If McClintock really wants to prove his bipartisanship, she says, he should agree with her about those issues too.
Given McClintock's history and ideology, Democrats should not have been surprised by his position on qualified immunity, and Kennedy's argument implies that true bipartisanship requires Republicans to agree with Democrats about everything. Her reaction to his stance, whether sincere or not, reflects a broader obstacle to building a trans-ideological coalition for police reform in the wake of George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests. Many left-leaning supporters of that cause either do not understand or willfully ignore the perspective of people like McClintock, and that incomprehension or misrepresentation risks alienating potential allies who disagree with them about a lot of other things.
As the RaleighNews & Observer noted, McClintock is not a newcomer to police reform, which he supported as a state legislator. Back in 2007, McClintock was outraged by the California Supreme Court's decision in Copley Press v. Superior Court,which shielded police disciplinary records from public view. "The Copley decision basically said that disciplinary proceedings against police officers are none of the public's business, even if conducted by a civil service commission under all due process considerations and even if the charges are proven," he said. "In short, once a citizen complains about the misuse of police power, even though the complaint is found to be entirely true, the public has no right to know. That is nuts."
Nor is McClintock a milquetoast when it comes to police invasions of people's homes. Here is what he had to say about no-knock raids this week: "No-knock warrants have proven to be lethal to citizens and police officers, for an obvious reason. The invasion of a person's home is one of the most terrifying powers government possesses. Every person in a free society has the right to take arms against an intruder in their homes, and the authority of the police to make such an intrusion has to be announcedbefore it takes place. To do otherwise places every one of us in mortal peril."
Regarding qualified immunity specifically, the News & Observer notes, "libertarians have long been clamoring for change on the issue." The paper mentions the Institute for Justice, which for years has been backing cases aimed at restricting or eliminating qualified immunity. Conservatives such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and 5th Circuit Judge Don Willett, a Trump appointee, also have criticized the doctrine.
McClintock's opposition to qualified immunity makes sense if you understand where he is coming from. During his 2008 House campaign, my formerReason colleague Dave Weigel observed, McClintock "saw the real political split in this country (and everywhere else) as between 'authoritarians and libertarians,' with authoritarians in the saddle now but libertarians coming on strong." McClintock also told Weigel, "I am concerned with civil liberties in this country, and with warrantless surveillance of Americans."
McClintock has been an outspoken critic of the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and he supported amnesty for National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. "I think it would be best if the American government granted him amnesty to get him back to America where he can answer questions without the threat of prosecution," McClintock told a Sacramento TV station in 2013. "We have some very good laws against sharing secrets, and he broke those laws. On the other hand, he broke them for a very good reason:because those laws were being used in direct contravention of our Fourth Amendment rights as Americans."
McClintock also has broken with most of his Republican colleagues in backing marijuana reform. He was an early supporter of legislation aimed at stopping federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and repealing the national ban on cannabis as it relates to conduct that is allowed by state law. McClintock opposed federal marijuana prohibition years before many prominent Democrats decided it was safe or politically expedient to do so. That position reflects not just a libertarian sensibility but a principled defense of federalism, a cause that many conservatives abandon when it proves inconvenient.
The fact that progressives can find common ground with McClintock on some issues, of course, hardly means he is about to embrace the rest of their agenda. Likewise with other conservatives, libertarians, and moderates, whether they have long supported police reform or are newly sympathetic because of the problems highlighted by George Floyd's death and other recent travesties.
It may seem obvious that you cannot build a coalition on an issue like police reform if you insist that your allies agree with you about everything or if you mistakenly treat them as Johnny-come-latelies. But progressives are making both of those mistakes.
Instead of supporting the four-page, stand-alone qualified immunity bill that Rep. Justin Amash (LMich.) introduced, House Democrats produced a 134-page billthat addresses qualified immunity but also includes several provisions Republicans are likely to oppose, including increased Justice Department scrutiny of local law enforcement polices and practices, government-backed racial profiling lawsuits, "training on racial bias" for federal law enforcement agents, and financial penalties for states that fail to ban chokeholds or are deficient in reporting data on traffic and pedestrian stops, body searches, and the use of force.
There is a huge gap between the Democrats' grab bag of proposalsmany of which are worthy ideasand the reforms that Republicans seem inclined to support. "The fact that it has no Republican sponsors, the fact that there was no effort to contact any of us to have us weigh in on the legislation, suggests it's designed to be a message piece, as opposed to a real piece of legislation," says Sen. Mitt Romney (RUtah), who plans to introduce a bipartisan police reform bill. "We should vote on each proposal separately," Amash argues. "Massive bills with dozens of topics aren't serious efforts to change law. They're messaging bills with no expectation of getting signed. They cram in so much that they're never written well or reviewed carefully."
The "defund police" slogan adopted by many activists (but wisely eschewed by most Democrats in Congress) poses similar problems. Some people who use it mean it literally, while others have in mind a restructuring of police departments and/or the transfer of money from them to social programs. Whatever the intent, the slogan is bound to alienate people who would otherwise be inclined to support reforms aimed at preventing police from abusing their powers and holding them accountable when they do. The fact that Donald Trump has latched onto the meme as a way of discrediting Democratic reformers is not a good sign. While "defund police" may appeal to some progressives and libertarians, it is not a message that will help attract broad public support for reforms.
It is also a strategic mistake for progressive reformers to act as if they own this issue when many people who don't agree with them on other subjects have been fighting this battle for a long time. As a libertarian who has been covering police abuse, the drug war, criminal justice reform, and civil liberties for more than three decades, I find that attitude irritating, and I'm sure other nonprogressives do as well. But this is not about personal pique; it's about how people with different ideological perspectives can come together on this issue now and avoid squandering an opportunity, perhaps the best we've had in many years, to do some good.
David Menschel, a criminal defense attorney, activist, and documentarian who runs the Vital Projects Fund, describes himself as a "left-winger," but he recognizes that progressives and libertarians are natural allies on this issue. He poses some provocative questions to libertarians about whether they are prepared to support social programs aimed at performing functions currently handled by the police. While that is a good conversation to have, it is not directly relevant to seizing this moment, which requires not only getting along with people who have different political views but also compromising with grudging supporters of reform who may be willing to back specific, concrete proposals to address police abuse that fall far short of the fundamental restructuring Menschel has in mind.
Much of the action on police reform is happening on the local and state levels, as you would expect given our federalist system of government. But to the extent that Congress can address the issue, we should be thinking about changes that might gain the support of not only Tom McClintock and Mitt Romney but also Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (RKy.), who has not heretofore distinguished himself as a criminal justice reformer but lately has been making noises about racial disparities in law enforcement. I'm not sure how much change someone like McConnell can stomach, but reform-minded legislators should find out before it's too late.
- When Joe Biden Tried To Paint Clarence Thomas as a Crazy Libertarian - Reason - July 31st, 2020
- Libertarian Assembly candidate calls for line item veto to rein in spending, elimination of property taxes and more to get rid of 'tyranny' and bloat... - July 31st, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | The last days of the tech emperors? - Minneapolis Star Tribune - July 31st, 2020
- Buchanan and Anarchism | Mises Wire - The Shepherd of the Hills Gazette - July 31st, 2020
- Trump Wanted To 'Throw Massie Out of Republican Party!' but the Libertarian-Leaning Congressman Just Won His Primary Anyway - Reason - June 24th, 2020
- Google's warning against the Federalist is why libertarians will lose fight over Big Tech - Washington Examiner - June 24th, 2020
- Texas-based conservative group funding 'green' PAC in MT - KTVH - June 24th, 2020
- Non-mask wearing fools - The Real Nurse Jackie - McKnight's Long Term Care News - June 24th, 2020
- Morelle with big lead over Wilt but absentee votes still to be tallied - WXXI News - June 24th, 2020
- Lockdown easing analysis: Boris Johnson's libertarian instincts returned... and he went further than anyone really expected - Evening Standard - June 24th, 2020
- How a fringe sect from the 1980s influenced No 10's attitude to racism - The Guardian - June 24th, 2020
- Radley Balko on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the Libertarian Case for Criminal Justice Reform - Reason - June 17th, 2020
- While pro-marijuana parties thrive, other minor parties struggle - Southernminn.com - June 17th, 2020
- Letters: 'It is suggested that Boris's Libertarian beliefs were the reasons for delayed Lockdown' - The Northern Echo - June 17th, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | At the center of that Supreme Court ruling were people - Minneapolis Star Tribune - June 17th, 2020
- The other Jo, wants your 2020 vote, if youre fed up with the two-party system or if youre not - WIZM NEWS - June 17th, 2020
- 'Where Are Libertarians on Police Reform?' Right Where We've Always Been. - Reason - June 13th, 2020
- Protests: Meet the Romney-Gary Johnson-Bloomberg voter embracing Black Lives Matter - Vox.com - June 13th, 2020
- What the Pandemic Revealed - Niskanen Center - June 13th, 2020
- Santa Cruz Shooting Suspect Preached Libertarian Ideals, Was Pushed Over the Edge By Police Actions Against Protesters, Friends Say - SFist - June 13th, 2020
- Libertarian Think Tank Praises Pelosis Call to Remove Confederate Statues from Capitol: Slavery is The Least Libertarian Thing Imaginable - Mediaite - June 13th, 2020
- Primary Election ballots are in the mail | YourHub - The Know - June 13th, 2020
- Scared for their jobs, Iowa Republicans are gaming the democratic process - The Gazette - June 13th, 2020
- 61 Quick Facts and Observations on Socialism, Jesus, and Wealth | Jon Miltimore - Foundation for Economic Education - June 13th, 2020
- Nelson lead up to 23 votes over Tarkanian - The Record-Courier - June 13th, 2020
- Amash decides against Libertarian campaign for president | TheHill - The Hill - May 19th, 2020
- Libertarian Group Sues Ohio Again On Behalf Of Closed Gyms - WOSU - May 14th, 2020
- The Libertarian Party Critique of Justin Amash - Reason - May 14th, 2020
- Third Parties Unlikely to Wreak Havoc in 2020 Election - New York Magazine - May 14th, 2020
- Modest meat reforms would help Americans stay fed during the pandemic - The Maine Wire - May 14th, 2020
- Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections | TheHill - The Hill - May 14th, 2020
- Drop off or in person, 8 p.m. is deadline to cast your vote in the primary election - North Platte Telegraph - May 14th, 2020
- Another ludicrous Thought of the Day from the BBC: The Bishop of Manchester assures us that we have libertarian free will - stopthefud - May 14th, 2020
- Live Blog: Nebraska 2020 Primary Election Results | netnebraska.org - NET Nebraska - May 14th, 2020
- Will COVID-19 block third-party ballot access? - The Aggie - May 14th, 2020
- Michigan Rep. Justin Amash on Why Hed Run for President as a Libertarian and the Culture of the GOP - TIME - May 9th, 2020
- Governments Have Screwed Up Mask Purchase and Distribution. Maybe Everyone Should Be a Libertarian in a Pandemic. - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- We Need Economists, Civil Libertarians, and Epidemiologists in the COVID-19 Discussion - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- Is the Chinese Communist Party Really Trying To Take Over the World? - The National Interest - May 9th, 2020
- 600K primary election ballots are in the mail to Montana voters - Missoula Current - May 9th, 2020
- The Coronavirus Might Force Minor Parties Off the 2020 Ballot - New York Magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Who should be included in the libertarian canon - UConn Daily Campus - April 21st, 2020
- The Government Has a Lot More Emergency Powers Than Libertarians Like, but It Still Can't Control Everything - Cato Institute - April 21st, 2020
- Opinion | A new populist revolution is here. Don't buy in. - The Daily Northwestern - April 21st, 2020
- COVID-19 is killing minor parties' ability to get candidates on the ballot in Minnesota - MinnPost - April 21st, 2020
- Why You Should Be a Socialist and a Marxist - Jacobin magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Mark Cuban To Run For President? Billionaire Dallas Mavericks Owner Does Not Rule Out 2020 White House Bid - International Business Times - April 21st, 2020
- Berkeley institution Top Dog is on the ropes. But they still wont take federal aid. - SFGate - April 21st, 2020
- No One Is Coming - Tom Webster - Elemental - April 21st, 2020
- Briefs filed in case over whether NM will move to vote-by-mail primaries during coronavirus emergency - New Mexico Political Report - April 9th, 2020
- Construction Accidents and Personal Injuries, Everything You Ought To Know - The Libertarian Republic - March 24th, 2020
- 'Tiger King' is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - WICZ - March 24th, 2020
- As Science And Business Go To War With Each Other, President Trump Pours Fuel On The Fire - Forbes - March 24th, 2020
- Vermin Supreme's quest to win hearts, minds and the Libertarian primaries - The Spectator USA - March 22nd, 2020
- Where the 2020 Libertarian candidates stand on Jewish issues? - The Times of Israel - March 22nd, 2020
- COVID-19 and . . . 2024? - National Review - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul Proves He Is Too Good For Us, As He Upsets the Right People - The Liberator Online - March 22nd, 2020
- Tiger King is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - Q13 News Seattle - March 22nd, 2020
- Campaign Beat: The Pandemic, The Primary And Third Parties - MTPR - March 22nd, 2020
- The Right to Assemble Not Erased By Government Emergency Libertarians to Continue Meeting in Keene Sundays at 5pm - Free Keene - March 22nd, 2020
- Just Send the Checks - Reason - March 22nd, 2020
- Opinion | Rufus Woods, Art of Community: Now is the time to sacrifice for elders and the vulnerable - wenatcheeworld.com - March 22nd, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | Amid the outbreak, Minnesota's minor political parties will struggle to get on the ballot - Minneapolis Star Tribune - March 22nd, 2020
- The small-government case for giving everyone a big check - The Week Magazine - March 22nd, 2020
- Armstrong: Liberty in the midst of a pandemic - Complete Colorado - March 22nd, 2020
- At war, Britons can be trusted to do the right thing - Telegraph.co.uk - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul looms as wild card in surveillance fight | TheHill - The Hill - March 8th, 2020
- Our Standards on Civility are Trash - The Libertarian Republic - March 8th, 2020
- Freelancers Shouldn't Betray Other Gig Workers By Allying with Anti-Union Opponents of AB5 - Common Dreams - March 8th, 2020
- Schiff says Democrats are negotiating to include more privacy protections in key surveillance bill | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Senate passes $8.3 billion coronavirus bill, sending it to Trump | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Civility and pleas to be heard mark debate among 18 marginal candidates - The Fulcrum - March 5th, 2020
- Talking about a revolution - The Economist - March 5th, 2020
- Plenty of contested races on the ballot this year - Norfolk Daily News - March 5th, 2020
- CA Voters Asked To Approve $17B In School Construction Bonds; Much Of It Unneeded (Opinion) - Patch.com - February 3rd, 2020
- Ahead of polls, New Zealand's opposition party rules out deal with kingmaker Peters - Midwest Communication - February 3rd, 2020
- Will SCOTUS Hearing on Ballot Position Apply to Minor Political Parties? - The Libertarian Republic - February 3rd, 2020
- Fire Wipes Out OC Nonprofit That Helps People Get Back Into The Workforce - LAist - February 3rd, 2020
- Proud Libertarian to run in upcoming council election - Queensland Times - February 3rd, 2020
- Dallas Food Events Not Around the Superbowl - Dallas Observer - February 3rd, 2020