This is a complete corruption of conservative ideals. There is nothing conservative about unconstitutional police activity, and there is nothing conservative about unilateral federal intervention in state affairs. Those are the acts of an authoritarian.
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The consequences of this radical expansion of federal law-enforcement authority are enormous—and none of them are likely to be good. This is what is keeping both of us awake at night. We are conservatives who are united in our love of the Constitution, the limited rule of law, effective government, individual rights, and civil discourse. We believe in checks and balances and the separation of powers.
And we are watching all of this crumble before our eyes, as the executive branch deploys unchecked power.
For starters, the events now unfolding will make America’s reckoning with the challenges in its criminal-justice and policing system even more difficult. After George Floyd’s killing, law enforcement’s tenuous role once again took center stage in America’s communities, particularly for communities of color and those in poverty. Now whatever progress might have been made through reforms at the state and local levels will be subsumed under the weight of federal intervention. If repairing the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they protect was difficult before, the president’s unilateral intervention into local affairs has made it impossible.
Of equal importance, the president’s actions have undermined the Constitution and transgressed norms of acceptable presidential behavior. Deploying a federal strike force when the local government does not want it is, as former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told The Washington Post, legally questionable. And Tom Ridge, who served as the first homeland-security secretary, under President George W. Bush, echoed that concern: DHS “was not established to be the president’s personal militia.” One of us, Paul Rosenzweig, served as the deputy assistant secretary for policy at DHS during the George W. Bush administration. But the reality is that a department created to protect the American people from external threats has now been transformed into a force against the very people it is supposed to serve.
How, then, can the nation repair the damage? We can think of several ways.
First, and most obvious, the other branches of government need to oppose and prevent this warlike activity. Specifically, for too long congressional oversight has atrophied. The Founders never imagined a supine Senate, willing to allow the president to exercise nearly limitless power in violation of every tenet of federalism.
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Now is the time for Congress to respond. Most immediate, the appropriations bill for Homeland Security is due for consideration on the floor of the House later this week. The representatives will be derelict in their duty if they do not adopt some type of funding limitations that restrict the ability of DHS to be deployed as the president’s “personal militia.” And the courts, while limited by the doctrines of standing and jurisdiction, should block these breaches of America’s most basic values and norms whenever a case is properly presented.