“He always voted at his party’s call / And he never thought of thinking for himself at all.” This Gilbert and Sullivan character anticipated by 150 years virtually all the Democratic members of the House of Representatives.
While their Republican counterparts are occasionally prone to deviate from the party line, as in a recent vote on “gay marriage,” the House Democrats under the influence of Hollywood and Silicon Valley money have demonstrated a perfection of discipline unmatched since that of the deputies of the French Communist Party during the reign of Maurice Thorez, who required them to surrender their salaries in return for living allowances paid on condition of good behavior. Party responsibility is a fine and necessary thing, but not when it is carried to the point of requiring legislators to support sight unseen voluminous bills the size of telephone books.
Since the beginning of the current congressional session, the House Democrats have voted unanimously (with one minor exception) for a series of lengthy bills with bizarre provisions providing ready ammunition for their Republican adversaries, disregarding the late Senator Bob Dole’s admonition to “read before you sign.” A few examples follow.
House Bill 1, which contains hundreds of pages, was designed to pre-determine the results of the next election, and abandons any pretense of non-partisanship. It provides for automatic voter registration by persons having business with selected federal and state agencies, including secondary schools, higher education institutions, social security offices, and federal agencies including the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Even 16-year-olds are to be automatically registered, although an amendment to expressly give them the vote secured the votes of only 120 Democrats.
Remarkably enough, although even unqualified youth are to be registered, the proposed legislation expressly prevents various of the agencies including higher education institutions from inquiring into the citizenship status of those to be automatically registered. Felons are to be enfranchised unless currently imprisoned. It is rendered difficult to purge non-voting and non-responding voters from the rolls. Funds are provided for modifications of secondary school curricula and voting exhibits at naturalization ceremonies and in connection with issuance of housing vouchers, and in secondary schools, priority to be given to schools receiving Title 1 funds with large numbers of low-income students. Theoretically nonpartisan re-districting commissions are to be established in each state pursuant to elaborate protocols, whose results however are to be revised to assure representation of unspecified “demographic groups.” Disputes are to be reviewed only in the politicized United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a stratagem adapted from the second Bush Administration’s approach to terrorism cases.
House Bill 4, the much-vaunted John Lewis Voting Rights Act, contains trigger provisions extending its applicability to almost all states and localities, and subjects even the most trivial changes in election procedures to discretionary pre-clearance by the Justice Department rather than the federal courts. Its manifest purpose is to freeze the permissive voting procedures adopted in response to the Covid emergency. Its authors have not considered that this is a game that Republican administrations can play also, by limiting changes in response to movements of population.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 contained similar pre-clearance provisions designed to uproot gross racial discrimination in the Deep South, focused on a limited number of jurisdictions. Efforts to expand its geographic reach were condemned by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case; even the original version was criticized by Justice Hugo Black as treating the South like a "conquered province." The draftsmen of House Bill 4 seem to have forgotten that the Constitutional Convention three times rejected proposals to subject contested state legislation to pre-clearance by the Supreme Court; they propose to bestow pre-clearance powers on presidential appointees in the Civil Rights Division.
House Bill 5, a so-called Equality Act, would prohibit discrimination by all commercial and other establishments on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, including pregnancy and “sex-based stereotypes.” It extends to foster care and adoption, and expressly renders the Religious Freedom Restoration Act inapplicable. That statute was sponsored by the late Senator Edward Kennedy as a means of allowing the scruples of fringe groups to undermine the policies of statutes embodying a moral consensus. Since its uses have been discovered by Roman Catholic and evangelical mainstream groups, its strictures requiring minimum possible interference with religious scruples are now to be swept away. House Bill 5 also regulates access to restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms.
House Bill 8296, a Women’s Health Protection Act, would sweep away all restrictions on pre-viability abortions—and post-viability abortions except for a vague ‘health’ standard—including those requiring the giving of reasons, the taking of tests, or other restrictions which would impede or delay abortions, increase costs, or require travel, such as restrictions on performance of abortions by non-doctors or specific abortion techniques, waiting periods, counseling requirements, and requirements of parental notification dozens of which have been upheld by the Supreme Court as consistent with Roe v. Wade prior to the recent Dobbs decision. The sponsors of the bill, though professing to celebrate stare decisis, in fact have no regard for it.
House Bill 8297, the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, seeks to sweep away all inhibitions to interstate travel to obtain abortions, presumably including residence requirements in receiving states, so as to erode the capacity of states to carry out constitutionally permitted policies. One wonders whether its sponsors will similarly wish to facilitate interstate shipment of firearms, tobacco, alcohol, and narcotic drugs so as to undermine restrictive state policies.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
The supporters of each and all of these statutes, including all House Democrats except Representative Cuellar of Texas as to the so-called Women’s Health Protection Act, appear to believe that the federal government possesses unlimited police powers, which need not be tied to interstate commerce or federal spending. Since National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius teaches otherwise, it is fair to demand of the bills’ supporters why they have not been faithful to their constitutional oaths of office, and why they have not considered the state of affairs that will result when their political opponents gain congressional majorities under a sympathetic president and seek to utilize usurped powers in the same spirit.
They appear to consider that the way to protect rights is to declare them in the most extreme possible form. A law professor of my acquaintance, a 'liberal' on the abortion issue, recently observed that if the Democrats had any intelligence, they would join Governors DeSantis and Youngkin and Chief Justice Roberts in upholding the 15-week Mississippi abortion law as a reasonable compromise. Instead, they choose to be the champions of ninth-month partial birth abortions.
The preambles of all these bills include voluminous “findings” which in large part are works of fiction. These exercises in like-minded persons talking to themselves are unlikely to be found persuasive by the Court whose decisions the authors are eager to overrule. When a great political party chooses to inhabit an alternative universe devised by radical feminists and adherents of critical race theory, this should be a matter of concern.