Even the most seemingly entrenched powers can be undermined and weakened and replaced by other human beings. And if it's not happening, it's not because it's impossible, it's because we just haven't figured out the right way to do it. And so the challenge of figuring out the right way to do that, and the role that I can play in it, and the way in which I can use my skills and my knowledge and my experience in order to contribute to it, is a really important and invigorating challenge for me. It becomes a work of passion, a sort of labor of love.As part of its "Conversations with History" series, UC Berkeley recently interviewed Glenn Greenwald, who discusses not only law and other issues, but his history and personal motivations for blogging. (1-hour SLYT)
Even when the Founders and others who succeeded them were violating the principle of equality before the law, they were enthusiastically and vocally affirming its validity and the importance of its supremacy. Now, you can say that that's basically the defining attribute of hypocrisy, espousing principles that you violate in your actions. And that's true. But there's another side, a more positive side, to espousing principles that you nonetheless fail to comport to, which is that you enshrine the principle as the aspiration, as the animating principle, by which you understand progress and move toward perfecting the Union. So because this idea of supremacy - the supremacy of the rule of law - was maintained even when it was violated, it's what led to the next two centuries of American progress. The emancipation of slaves, the elimination of Jim Crow, the franchisement of women, the superior treatment of Native Americans, the better circumstances for gay Americans, and a whole litany of others, was driven by this principle. And what has really happened over the past 3 or 4 decades (and I trace it back to the Ford pardon of Nixon) is that we now no longer just violate this principle, we expressly and explicitly repudiate it. We've renounced it. We have a whole series of arguments that are commonly aired in the elite opinion-making circles of our country that are designed to justify why the most powerful people, by virtue of their power, should be shielded from the rule of law when they commit crimes rather than subjected to it on equal terms. And that to me is the really radical change that distinguishes it from the first couple of centuries.On the erosion of rights
As somebody who works on civil liberties and used to litigate First Amendment cases, I used to represent some people with truly repellent views, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and others, whose free speech rights are being assaulted. And of course a lot of times when you do that, people ask you well, why would you want to represent somebody like that? Their views are incredibly toxic, they probably inspire violence. And the answer which I think is obvious if you look at political history even for a short period of time is that the way that rights erosions work is that they're always applied in the original instance to some unsympathetic figure. So if the government wants to seize the power to kill people, they'll pick Anwar al-Awlaki, who is easy demonizable. If the government wants to justify immunity for elites, they'll say let's do it in the case of Richard Nixon, where everybody is sick of Watergate and wants to move on. And what happens is when you endorse the principles in the first instance, the principle itself, not just the application that you like, becomes entrenched. It becomes legitimized and institutionalized. And the guarantee is that once the government is vested with that particular power in that particular case, it will expand beyond the scope which it's originally represented to exist in. And that's the reason it's so crucial to argue against it and defend against it and object to it in the first instance, even when for whatever reasons you may like the particular outcome of its application.
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