We’re into month two of the “State of Emergency” in Minnesota.
Let’s stipulate in advance – government does have emergency powers, and should have them, at least as a broad concept. One of government’s few genuinely legitimate roles is to exert its power to react to things that are beyond the power of the individual, or (rarely, at least in theory) subsidiary levels of government; invasions, natural disasters and, yeah, epidemics. We can argue the “should government have emergency power” question if you’d like, but it’s pretty much the status quo.
One of the obligations of a free people – and especially of a free people that wants to stay that way – is to push back when government overreaches. Not just in emergencies (although that’s the subject today), but always, on every facet of liberty. Conservatism holds that order and liberty exist in a constant state of tension; without order (or health) prosperity is impossible; without health, freedom is academic (subsistence farmers don’t have time to petition for redress of grievances); without freedom, order is onerous and, let’s be honest, prosperity is most likely concentrated among those keeping the order.
Government power, like a handgun, is a necessary tool in extreme circumstances. And like any necessary tool, free people need to make sure that the newbie isn’t sweeping people at the firing range with her hand on the trigger, and that goverment isn’t getting drunk and profligate with its use, or abuse of power.
And I think we can make a pretty solid case that Governor Walz’s emergency declaration does exactly that.
First – Covid clearly is an emergency. There is a valid public health reason to treat it as more than just the flu. But the record shows different states taking very different approaches to the emergency, and with very different results; New York State went full-on Mussolini, but between having one of the most densely populated cities in the country and being run by bungling clowns like Bill DiBlasio, it didn’t work; California also went full-on tyrant, but it seems to be working. Other states went the other way; in the Dakotas and the rural west, it seems to be working out fairly well, while in Louisiana and Florida, the libertarian approach (combined with a lot of ill-advised, Italian-style revelry in the face of the threat) didn’t pan out so well.
Minnesota has trended more authoritarian. I get the rationale. But let’s be honest – even if you ignore the ham-handedness of the administration’s management of information (of which more later in the week), it’s fair to say the Governor and his Administration have clobbered civil liberties while reacting to the crisis – in many cases, wrongly.
So lets put together a list of the usurpations:
Life and Liberty
- While the movement restrictions in Minnesota are fairly benign so far – serving more as a muted threat than an active clampdown – the idea of telling people not to go to their lake cabin (i.e., trying to prevent people from moving temporarily from a place of high desnsity and greater vulnerability to someplace safer) is an intrusion. And Mayor Frey’s active use of the police to curtail traffic isn’t just a muted threat.
- The ability to visit family, especially in hospitals and nursing homes. To be fair, in many cases this is a private response to the epidemic – it’s why I can’t see my mother, notwithstanding the fact that her husband of nearly 30 years just died – but it’s driven by the response to government regulations and the litigiousness that government regulators have promoted.
- We’re paying for a lot of government “services” of dubious value in the best of times, that we’re not getting at all today.
The Pursuit of Prosperity
Here, the DFL’s disdain for business and private property rears its head, above and beyond any actual response to the epidemic.
- The right to transact business is clearly subject to arbitrary, and in some cases seemingly capricious, interference. Small businesses are shut down (as big ones, and business with more, better lobbyists remain open), in many cases without regard to the business’ actual susceptibility to the virus (lawn services? Landscapers? They’re pretty socially distant to begin with). Arbitrarily shutting down businesses regardless of their own instincts for self-preservation, ingenuity and ability to achieve some resiliency against the epidemic (like all the small grocery stores turning their lanes into one-way thorofares) qualifies as a taking in my book. Classic example – liquor stores are “essential”, but vape and smoke shops aren’t. It’s best that your vices not be politically unfashionable.
- The assignment of “essential” status was clearly utterly politicized.
- While it seems an act of charity, and might even be justifiable, barring all evictions and foreclosures is certainly an arbitrary taking without some sort of compensation. The idea that
- Contracts are pretty much irrelevant – business are foreclosed by decree, in many cases, from fulfilling them, and the courts are closed for purposes of arbitrating the results.
- The Administration is making huge, life-altering decisions about the economy based on a model that seems to be giving very different results than most other models, and whose proprietors are keeping secret for the most paternalistic of reasons: “On Friday, [State health economist Stefan] Gildemeister said he had concerns that models that let anyone use them might be “irresponsible” because “it allows folks to make assumptions that aren’t very realistic ones.” While “transparency” isn’t necessarily a constitutional issue, the idea that state bureaucrats treat the math and code that they created on our dime like something they have to prorect from a bunch of drooling savages should make every freedom-loving citizen hot under the collar, and ready to vote a whole lot of scoundrels out of office in seven months or so.
- The legislature, already prone as it is to operating as a “star chamber” with the Governor, Speaker, and the two Majority Leaders, has gotten even less transparent than before; online gatherings (kept just below legal “quorum” status) have been substituting for public committee meetings; policy is being made completely absent public scrutiny.
- The governor’s “press only” press conference Friday – if that doesn’t bother you, what does?
- The banning of group gatherings of all kinds – as opposed to pushing for voluntary enforcement of containment and distancing – pretty much forswears all protest against government overreach.
- The enforced closing of places of worship – as opposed to strongly suggesting people wear masks, stay at home if sick, and observe spacing between family groups in services – is a clear violation of freedom of religion.
- While closing places of worship by decree is onerous, many churches – including my own – closed voluntarily. But there are aspects to faith – Sacraments like Last Rites, Baptism and Confession, for Catholics, and there are many others in other faiths – that must be done in person, and where remote exercise is banned as a matter of doctrine. I’ve been informed of cases where priests have been barred from hospitals; no avenues left open for the administration of such Sacraments, whether through prudent adaptations (priests in masks and PPE, isolation rooms, whatever) or not. One administrative size fits all, whether talking about an ad agency or a church. This – not just the closing down, but the forbidding of any adaptation – has to be a clear violation of the First Amendment.
- Freedom of assembly? Do I even need to say it?
- Along with that – the right to petition for the redress of grievances, private or public, is pretty much toast until the courts decide to start meeting again.
- Many counties are curtailing the ability to apply for, or renew, carry and purchase permits.
- The operation of the ranges necessary for taking permit training is pretty much shut down.
- Thanks to a law passed by a bipartisan majority in 2015, government in Minnesota can’t confiscate guns, or shut down gun stores unless literally every other business in the state is closed, due to a state of emergency. This was an admirable bit of foresight – it doesn’t take a vivid imagination to see Jacob Frey, Melvin Carter and Kim Norton (frothing anti-gun ninny mayor of Rochester) sending their cops door to door in times like this. More on this later.
- The presence of anonymous “snitch lines” – and especially “hate crime” lines, may not have led to any Fourth Amendment perversions of probable cause yet – but don’t bet against it.
- With the courts pretty much closed your right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury is pretty much toast for the duration.
- And the closing down of the Judicial Branch offices give defense attorneys – who, unlike prosecutors, have no online access to Judicial Branch records – a serious disadvantage in prepping for cases for when they can get to trial.
- Government is using your cell data to track the effectiveness of social distancing. While we’re assured that government and the big cell providers they’re in bed with aren’t mis-using that data, we all know that’s only as safe as the government’s least ethical employee.
Got more (specific to Minnesota, for now)? Leave ’em in the comments, please.
I gave the example of Minnesota’s gun rights movement’s successful drive to foreclose government’s ability to confiscate firearms and abrogate the 2nd Amendment during crises. Gun Rights groups in Minnesota are big, well-organized, and badly funded (you can sure help out) but make up for it in volunteer action and the justice of our cause.
The lesson, though? Minnesotans need to get together in the same way to put stronger guard rails on the other excesses of government emergency power we’re seeing.