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Political Theater Renders No Law, Order, or Justice

us attorney general william bill barr

U.S. Atty. Gen. William "Bill" Barr testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing in the Congressional Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 28, 2020 in Washington, D.C. -  (Chip Somodevilla/Pool/AFP/via Getty Images)

By Wednesday, 29 July 2020 04:54 PM Current | Bio | Archive

On July 28 U.S. Attorney General William "Bill" Barr — the nation’s top law enforcement officer — was grilled before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. 

The purpose of hearings held by and in legislative bodies is supposed to be to aid in the passage of new legislation.

Sadly, public performances of the sort just witnessed quickly degenerate into political theater.

While General Barr was ostensibly there in order to answer questions about the Justice Department’s policies regarding criminal prosecution and the exercise of the pardon power, it quickly became clear that the hearing was actually about the nature of our contemporary reality — politically and perhaps otherwise as found throughout our divided nation.

In a remarkable book published in 2002, ostensibly exploring the development of American Law in the 20th Century, our leading legal historian, Stanford’s Lawrence Freidman, wrote, "There is no such thing as objective truth. There is white truth and black truth and Asian truth and Hispanic truth. There is male truth and female truth. Probably there is young truth and old truth, and rich truth and poor truth, too."

Friedman was reflecting the now almost universal view in our universities and colleges that things most Americans take as objective reality — sex, race, law, love, truth itself — are "socially constructed" — artificial creations which have no permanent aspects, but shift in their nature depending on time, place — and other transient factors.

This was not the view of our Founders and their generation, of course, and James Madison, when he wrote Federalist 10 — the charter of our republican government — posited a single national good (involving the maintenance of the rule of law and the preservation of individual freedom and private property).

Madison thought such a national interest would prevail if our country was large enough so that self-interested factions in our polity, in effect, would cancel each other out.

Anyone who watched Mr. Barr’s hearing must have wondered whether we still live even in the country described by Professor Friedman, because what we were seeing appeared to be two starkly different kinds of truth: a Democratic Party truth and a GOP truth, articulated by those who attacked and defended Mr. Barr, and the Trump administration.

According to committee Democrats, Mr. Barr’s Justice Department was an authoritarian annex of the Trump campaign for reelection, suppressing "peaceful demonstrations" in order to score "law and order" political points. Mr. Barr was thus painted as a presidential lacky, pursuing the president’s enemies and rewarding his friends.

According to the Republicans and Mr. Barr, however, his department was simply seeking to restore objective enforcement of the law, following the deep politicization of that department (and our intelligence gathering services) during the Obama administration, and, indeed, following a disgraceful and illegal attempt by the "Obama/Biden" administration to undermine and stymie Mr. Trump’s first three years with the "Russia Collusion" hoax.

For the Democrats, and particularly the Black and minority members of the Committee, Mr. Barr’s department and the Trump administration were guilty of the "systematic racism," which purportedly infects our society, since, for example, there were no African Americans in the entourage of top Justice Department personnel accompanying Mr. Barr.

For his part, the chair of the judiciary committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., had maintained that Antifa — the militant group instigating much of the recent mayhem in Portland, Seattle, and other American cities — was a "myth," but Mr. Barr and Republicans argued that "anarchists," not "peaceful protesters" posed a real threat to life and limb of the United States Marshalls defending federal property.

There is no doubt that many of our urban centers have been convulsed in the last couple of months by a wave of crime, looting, and protest, in the wake of the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer.

Democrats on the committee sought to suggest that this killing represented law enforcement in this country. Mr. Barr tried to explain that this was a misconception, and that statistics actually demonstrated that on the whole deaths at the hands of the police were rare and not racially motivated.

The Democrats were unconvinced, and, as is usually the case with these performances, it is likely no one’s mind was changed, and no legislative interests advanced.

In this country we determine truth, in the final analysis, at the ballot box, as we have done for over two centuries.

We are now beginning to realize, however, that one of our parties, the Democrats, still refuse to accept the results of 2016; thus they engage in extraordinary and probably illegal behavior aimed at destroying our nation's 45th commander in chief.

Such conduct, and other aspects of our deep political divisions, actually put us at risk of splitting apart, if not lapsing into armed rebellion.

The future of this nation, and perhaps truth itself, depends on acceptance of what happens this Nov. 3rd.

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. Read Stephen B. Presser's Reports — More Here.

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Sadly, public performances of the sort just witnessed quickly degenerate into political theater.
barr, federalist, madison, nadler
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2020-54-29
Wednesday, 29 July 2020 04:54 PM
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