RNLA Co-Chair Harmeet Dhillon: Response to Coronavirus Threatens Civil Liberties

RNLA Co-Chair Harmeet Dhillon wrote today in The Daily Caller about how the response to the coronavirus, especially in states like California in full lockdown, threatens civil liberties:

Just like gun-grabbing legislation from left-wing activists and FISA renewal on Capitol Hill, this sweeping lack of process being forced on citizens in the name of “public safety” is something from the playbook of a latter-day Jacobin Club rather than a republic established on civil liberties. We shouldn’t be cowed through fear-mongering into a sheep-like position before the government.

This virus outbreak is serious, but to allow rights and fundamental principles of liberal society to be summarily suspended in a time of crisis signals a lack of belief in those rights and principles in the first place. What’s perhaps most troubling is how quickly a numbed populace rolls over and accedes to these indignities, silently accepting what may well be a one-way downward ratchet on our liberties forever, all the while trusting the government to make it right. That trust is likely misplaced.

At the federal level, politicians are busy determining which industries get bailouts and which employee benefits are being unilaterally imposed on companies suddenly facing the prospect of closure due to lack of revenue and forced inaction. Lawmakers can’t seem to resist the urge to sneak their own pet projects into legislation, be it abortion slush funds or expanding the EB-5 investor visa program (at a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs!). At the state and local levels, bureaucrats and elected officials are deciding which businesses should open and close, when curfews should be imposed, when criminal laws should be enforced and when basic due process may be forfeited in the name of a public health threat.

It may well end up having been necessary to take some measures to limit movement among certain vulnerable populations in order to save lives, but if the cost is our liberty, our economic independence and our mental health, then that cost may well be called too high by those of us who survive to tell a younger generation about the days when the Constitution was the supreme law of the land and not just a quaint memory – when the government didn’t have the power to kill the business you took decades to build on the basis of situationally variable concern for public safety.

Ms. Dhillon will join Cato Institute legal scholar Ilya Shapiro next week on an RNLA members-only conference call to discuss the issues of federalism, emergency powers, and civil liberties raised by the response to COVID-19.  Mr. Shapiro has tweeted recently:

RNLA members can find more information about the call and RSVP here.  Non-members can join the RNLA here.