How often are administrative offices used to pursue political agendas? Two recent events coming from the Maine Secretary of State’s office in close proximity to one another force us to call into question whether or not the ‘rule of law’ is actually as objective as we’d all like to think it is. One involves marijuana, and the other basic human rights.
In the first instance, Secretary Dunlap used a technicality to deny LegalizeMaine their referendum to legalize marijuana for recreational use from getting on the ballot. Secretary Dunlap’s argument was that because of variation in the signature of one of the notaries, every single petition submitted to the Secretary of State’s office was invalid. This is confusing, since if a person is legally signing their name to a document and saying that they take full responsibility for their signature, it would seem that intent would take over. Even if the signatures were forged as Dunlap accuses, the notary in question is claiming full legal responsibility. If you wanted to buy a refrigerator, and somebody else signed your name on the contract, and you agreed to take full responsibility for the forged signature and to pay the bill for the refrigerator, the appliance store isn’t going to rip up your contract, refuse your money, and deny you a fridge. Yet Secretary Dunlap wanted to do exactly that, going to the mat using a technicality to throw out all the signatures and disqualifying the entire ballot initiative. One may conclude he’s using his office to push a political agenda of his own.
“Not so!” cry the chorus of Democratic Party faithful. “He’s just doing his job! He’s being impartial! He needs to make sure everything is done legally!”
Ah yes, the supposed impartiality of legalism. More on that later. Dunlap’s challenge was itself challenged in court, and Matt Dunlap and the State of Maine lost. Secretary Dunlap’s refusing to recognize the petitions had no solid legal basis. The marijuana legalization referendum will be on the ballot this fall after all.
So much for being impartial or making sure everything is done legally.
Cries of relief have gone up from the legalization crowd, including Representative Diane Russell (D- Portland), who posted about the legal victory on facebook. She left unchallenged however, comments expressing how relieved her supporters were that “LePage’s meddling cronies lost this round!”
While it makes perfect sense that LePage would be behind this hamfisted debacle, (as he’s usually behind this sort of thing) one glaring problem with that assertion is that Secretary Dunlap is not one of LePage’s cronies. Instead, Dunlap is a long time Democrat whose party credentials include serving in the State House of Reps from 1996 till 2005 when he left that position and first became the Secretary of State. He lost the position as Secretary in 2011 after a Republican sweep of the state legislature in 2010, and sought the nomination of the Democratic Party for a run for US Senate in 2012 (though he lost the nomination to Cynthia Dill, who was thrown under the bus by her own party when the DSCC backed Independent Angus King. It’s okay though– some in the GOP ended up backing Dill against their own candidate. The ruling class are a tight family). After the Democrats regained control of the nominations for the “impartial” administrative positions in 2013, Dunlap was in the Secretary of State’s office once again.
In the second recent event, homophobic bigot Michael Heath took out referendum petitions to remove homosexuality as a protected class under Maine’s Human Rights Act. While many on the left were upset at the idea that human rights could be voted on, the Democratic Party chorus came to his defence, saying once again, that he was just doing his job and being impartial. But where before, Dunlap was using his position to thwart a referendum, this time he was standing idly by, and allowing the wheels of legalism to turn freely.
So, much to the dismay of those who care about human rights, and anybody who is either homosexual themselves or has queer friends, it seems that Secretary Dunlap learned his lesson, to be an impartial administrator of the legal process– but wait, not so fast. Where Heath’s petitions were taken out on April 6th, the Secretary of State’s office was still fighting the Marijuana legal battle until April 8th. Moreover, the Secretary of State’s office was potentially still considering appealing the LegalizeMaine decision until April 13th when they announced that they would not, in fact, appeal.
None of this is anything new. Democrats in administrative positions in the city government of Portland Maine denied Green Party activists municipal petitions to make marijuana legal for recreational use in Portland’s city limits. Initially the City of Portland refused to authorize the petitions, which set the Greens back in their schedule for signature collection. The still managed to collect nearly 2,000 signatures, and needed only 1,500 to get on the ballot. The Democrats serving as city officials then invalidated nearly half the signatures that were gathered… which sounds familiar for some reason. That legal battle wasn’t won in time, but the Green Party lawyered up and went at it again in 2013, and managed to get recreational marijuana on the ballot and win– making their referendum law. A law which the Democrat-run city government has refused to observe.
The issue of human rights being up for a vote by the public isn’t anything new either.
In 2009, the Attorney General Janet Mills (Democrat) and Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (sounds familiar…) agreed that it was totally fine for Question 1 to get on the ballot– which overturned the right of same-sex couples to marry. In case you forgot, ‘Yes on One’ was not defeated, and human rights were overturned by a vote that year. The same thing could happen again.
Which Side are you on?
Again, cries go up from the Democratic Party loyal, “Dunlap is just doing his job! He’s trying to make sure everything is done legally!”
Except that is flatly untrue, as illustrated by the Marijuana debacle.
“We live under a nation of laws, not personal opinions!” the Democratic Party Chorus say. Which is also bullshit. How the legal system actually works in the United States, is that whenever anything is unclear, people just do whatever they want, and then when somebody with the money and power to challenge it gets pissed at those who are doing that thing, they settle it in the courts. Which means it is ultimately up to the personal opinion of a judge as to what the law says. And when the public tries to take the law into their hands through referendum, or through running for office, it hinges on the opinion of bureaucratic administrators like Matthew Dunlap or Janet Mills, or supposedly nonpartisan City Clerks who denied petitions to the Green Party in 2011.
And should the court system be used to challenge these administrators, depending on how far through the legal system a case makes it, ‘the rule of law’ ultimately rests in the personal opinion of the nine Supreme Court Justices to decide if something is ‘legal’ or not. The ‘rule of law’ as some sort of objective and independent arbiter of justice is a complete and utter farce. The ‘rule of law’ is ultimately subjective, either based in the personal opinions of living people, or the personal opinions of dead people (the framers of the constitution, judges who presided over landmark cases). Whether based on ancient legal precedent, like the Magna Carta, the writings of William Blackstone, or an interpretation of the word salad found in the United States Constitution, it’s still ultimately based on personal opinions of what things mean.
And with the rule of law being built on personal opinions, the ‘rule of law’ is certainly is no excuse to be consistently on the wrong side of history, impeding the march of greater justice and freedom.
So the question about whether or not one’s hands are tied by the ‘rule of law’ is really a matter of which side of the issues you are on, and what the strength of your convictions are. It would seem that when it comes to legal weed or the right to be gay, Matt Dunlap’s convictions are clearly weak and unprincipled opposition to both.
It’s WTF’s editorial opinion that both ‘being gay’ and ‘smoking weed for fun’ should be legal.