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What Does Rand Paul’s America Look Like?

By Ian Millhiser  

"What Does Rand Paul’s America Look Like?"

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In three recorded interviews, anti-government extremist Rand Paul (R-KY) stated his opposition to the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters.  Although he has since attempted to distance himself from his consistently-expressed and well-documented views, it is clear from the fact that Paul repeated certain ideas over and over again before they became a political liability that he has several well developed ideas about how government can behave.

First, Paul believes that the federal government has minimal power to regulate how private property owners use their property, or how private business owners manage their businesses or employees.  In Paul’s interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, he explains that he opposes the ban on whites-only lunch counters because he “believe[]s in private ownership.”  During his lengthy interview with Rachel Maddow, Paul explained that he supports the parts of the Civil Right Act of 1964 that limit government discrimination, but that he rejects the “one title” of the Act that limits private activities (for the record, there are at least two titles of the original Civil Rights Act that limit private actors.  Title II prohibits discrimination by restaurants, hotels and other public accommodations; Title VII forbids employment discrimination). Similarly, in his interview with NPR, Paul explains that his shield surrounding private businesses extends well beyond the civil rights context.  When asked how he feels about “the degree of oversight of the mining and oil-drilling industries,” Paul responded “I think that most manufacturing and mining should be under the purview of state authorities.”

Second, Paul would drastically reduce–if not eliminate altogether–federal agencies’ power to regulate business.  In a January interview with Fox Business, Paul called for drastic regulatory rollbacks, stating that we should “get rid of regulation. Get the EPA out of our coal business down here. Get OSHA out of our small businesses.”

Third, although Paul leaves no doubt about his opposition to virtually all government regulation of private business, he does name one exception to this rule in his Rachel Maddow interview.  When asked about his views on supporters of whites-only lunch counters who resorted to violence against civil rights activists, Paul replied that people who engage in “violence” should go to jail.  There are any number of federal laws restricting mining companies, the oil industry and other private businesses which do not actually prohibit acts of violence, however, and Rand Paul has not clarified how he views these laws.

  • The Workplace

Although Paul would not permit employers to commit acts of violence against their employees, he has not explained whether he would permit the federal government to impose any other limits on employers.  In the early 20th century, for example, the Supreme Court declared a law restricting child labor unconstitutional.  Since requiring seven year-olds to work in a sweatshop is not an act of literal violence against them, would Paul agree with this outdated decision?  Similarly, what of the federal minimum wage, or the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which prevents employers from forcing their workers to work in dangerous environments?  Paul should explain whether his belief in “private ownership” precludes such laws.

  • Supreme Court

In its landmark decisions in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, and Katzenbach v. McClung, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against constitutional challenges.  Paul, however, believes that this law should not exist.  Since then, only one justice–Justice Clarence Thomas–has openly disagreed with the reasoning of these decisions.  Would Paul refuse to support judicial nominees who do not share Justice Thomas’s radical views?  Would he filibuster Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, who sees the world very differently than Justice Thomas?  Does Paul believe that the courts should impose his own ultra-libertarian views on the nation, as the pre-New Deal Court did in the “Lochner Era?

  • Federal Agencies

Few members of Congress are environmental scientists, economists, or medical researchers.  Yet many federal regulations would be completely counterproductive unless they were drafted by experts.  Moreover, in an age of persistent filibusters, Congress cannot monitor existing regulations and adapt them to changing circumstances.  For these reasons, Congress often delegates regulatory authority to agencies whose officials have both expertise and the ability to act.  Such delegations are, in the Supreme Court’s words, an important way to ensure that the law responds to “changing circumstances and scientific developments,” and does not become “obsolete.”

In his Good Morning America interview yesterday morning, Paul accused EPA of “run[ning] amok” by preparing to regulate greenhouse gasses, even though Congress clearly delegated this power to EPA when it enacted the Clean Air Act.  This, and his previous attacks on agencies such as OSHA, calls into question if and when he believes that agencies are allowed to do their jobs.

So, while Rand Paul has been quite clear that his views are outside the mainstream, he has not yet clarified how far down the rabbit hole he would take America.  Paul should flesh out what, if any, federal laws he believes should continue to exist.

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