STEVE BENJAMIN ruined this great column idea.
I’d gotten complaints for months about how The State wouldn’t out the mayor for turning Columbia into a sanctuary city, when one day we ran a national news article that identified it as such.
Finally, I had the yin to join my in-hand yang to denounce lawlessness on both the left and the right.
I had the perfect forum to talk about how public officials have a special obligation to respect the rule of law — whether that involves federal immigration laws that they consider inhumane or federal education rules that they think steal discretion from our state. To remind public officials who can’t bring themselves to obey the law that they need to cease being public officials. To explain that when government officials ignore the law, they undermine one of the foundational principles of our nation — the principle that more than any other sets us apart from North Korea and Iran and Russia and China and Cuba and a host of other dictatorships.
But that news article was short on specifics, and Columbia wasn’t on an anti-immigration group’s list of cities in danger of losing federal funds for providing sanctuary for illegal immigrants, so I asked Mr. Benjamin what it means that Columbia is a sanctuary. Turns out that while the City Council passed a resolution in 2014 declaring that it “welcomed” unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children who were cleared by the federal government — which apparently and bizarrely had been the basis for months of “sanctuary city” rumors — the news article was incorrect: Columbia is not a sanctuary city. Mr. Benjamin is clearly sympathetic to the sanctuary city movement, but Columbia, he told me, “follows all federal laws.”
“If the Columbia Police Department arrests a person for a felony crime who turns out to be in the US illegally, we contact ICE,” he said via email. “If we arrest someone for a misdemeanor or traffic violation, the CPD is less likely to get ICE involved.”
As I understand it, and I pay little attention to the immigration wars, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to withhold federal funds from localities that prohibit police from questioning people about their immigration status and refuse Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ requests to detain jail inmates until agents can pick them up. Columbia apparently does neither, which is good. Because, again, it is the duty of public officials to comply with the law. And it is absolutely appropriate for the federal government to refuse funding to cities, counties and states that don’t meet federal requirements for those funds.
Regular readers know that I take every opportunity to say “a pox upon both your houses,” because I the biggest political sins — among them ideological extremity, refusal to compromise, attributing evil intent to opponents — are committed across the political spectrum.
The absence of a prominent S.C. example of political lawlessness on the left reduces the value of this column in my mind. But we have plenty of national examples on both the left and the right — from the liberal politicians in such cities as Chicago and Washington who are defying federal immigration laws to former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s presidentially pardoned defiance of a federal court order and the U.S. Senate bid of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who defied multiple court orders, and ordered others to do so as well. And while we don’t have Mayor Benjamin here at home, we do have would-be governor Kevin Bryant.
This spring, the lieutenant governor announced that he would refuse to ratify next year’s state budget if it includes any funding for organizations that provide abortions. Now, I fully expect that Gov. Henry McMaster would veto any such funding, which is perfectly within his rights. Refusing to ratify a bill — a ministerial duty of the lieutenant governor, much like accepting your income tax payment is a ministerial duty of state Revenue Department employees — is not within Mr. Bryant’s rights.
Politicians flout the rule of law precisely because it’s so populist.
Mr. Bryant followed that up last month by signing a pledge to “reject all federal mandates tied to federal funding.” Technically, he could do that without violating the law, if he convinced the Legislature to turn down the $2 billion in federal education funding that our state receives each year. Of course, the Legislature wouldn’t do that.
Besides, Mr. Bryant told Charleston’s Post and Courier that he planned to review all federally funded education programs, and keep accepting the money where that made sense — even though they all contain federal mandates. That means that he plans to violate either his pledge or the rule of law.
Attempted deception is a matter that the political system is capable of sorting out. Just as it is capable of sorting out gubernatorial candidates who preach the evils of government while taking high-dollar government consulting jobs that appear to require little work, or who seem a little too “proud of the Confederacy” or a little too close to political scandal.
Rule-of-law violations are not so easily policed by politics. Even more than the political issues they favor or oppose, politicians flout the rule of law precisely because it’s so … populist. Add that to the fact that most voters are too cynical to recognize that it’s not something everyone does, and this worst of all political sins deserves special condemnation whenever it is committed.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.