On the heals of U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul’s huge win in the Kentucky republic primary, Dr. Paul substantially weakened his candidacy on the Rachel Maddow show:
“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.”
Notice the use of the phrase public sphere. Paul would have wanted to alter the language in the 1964 Civil Rights Act which gave power to the federal government to force private business owners to desegregate. Some are suggesting that Paul’s main beef here is that the federal government overstepped its bounds in the Civil Rights Act. It would have been OK for states or local governments to force private businesses to desegregate. However, it is not clear to me, from hearing the entire Maddow-Paul interview, or reading Paul’s remarks after that interview, that Paul believes that any part of the government whatsoever (local, state, or federal) has the right to curtail the liberty of private business owners. (I could be wrong here.)
Paul’s logic is essentially, “I’m personally opposed to racial discrimination, but I do not support federal laws to eliminate racial discrimination in the private sector.” As Denny Burk has observed, how is that fundamentally different from saying: “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think the government should step in and make it illegal. It is up to each individual woman to decide”?
If that’s really Paul’s position, I think it is horribly misguided. Laws are always about the enforcing of morality, and just as we rightly want limited government (since power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely), and local government (for the sake of efficiency), man’s inherent depravity requires that we have some laws–instituted at some level–which require that God’s image bearers be treated with dignity. The liberty of private business owners can and must be curtailed should those owners decline to serve constituents on the basis of race or color. Likewise, the liberty of pregnant women can and must be curtailed should these women seek to take the life of their unborn children. In either case, the dignity of God’s image bearers is at stake.
In my view, whether such laws should be enacted at the federal, state, or local level is a separate debate. I think section 1 of the 14th amendment suggests that it is best for abortion to be limited (or banned) at the federal level. In the case of civil rights in 1964, my understanding is that the northern states already had laws against segregation (both in public and private spheres). That being the case, the southern states could have simply followed suit. But since they weren’t doing so, and given the inherent dignity of God’s image bearers of all races, and given section 1 of the 14th amendment, it was not an overreach of the Federal government to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Burk is correct: “Conservatives and liberals agree that the law is inherently moral. What they disagree on is what is and is not moral.” Paul seems to view the matter in terms of liberty (again, I’m not even sure he believes that any branch of government can curtail the liberty of private business owners), and doesn’t place enough emphasis on morality.