Scalia, Trump, and Clinton on Civil Liberties

Scalia Clinton

The recent death of Antonin Scalia (which I discussed here when the news first broke) has led to a lot of well-deserved criticism of his record. While his conservative votes have been damaging in some areas, it should be kept in mind when evaluating the candidates that, on civil liberties issues, Hillary Clinton is to the right of Scalia.

I have previously discussed Clinton’s conservative record on civil liberties issues in posts such as here and here during this election cycle.Civil liberties were a bigger election issue eight years ago during the conclusion of George Bush’s presidency. This was discussed in a post here, which also notes the expansion of police powers under Bill Clinton. During the 2008 campaign Hillary Clinton was the only Democrat who refused to sign a pledge to restore Constitutional liberties. All the Republican candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, also refused to sign. The Nation wrote:

The effort to get presidential contenders to sign on the American Freedom Pledge has been promoted by organizations ranging from the Center for Constitutional Rights to Human Rights Watch, MoveOn.org , Amnesty International USA, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and True Majority.

The pledge is anything but radical. It simply asks candidates to affirm a statement that reads: “We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal remedy, we do not tap people’s phones and emails without a court order, and above all we do not give any President unchecked power. I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from attack by any President.”

Truth-Out had an article in December which looked at Hillary Clinton’s legacy of moving the Democratic Party to the right as she promoted the policies of the Democratic Leadership Council, and included her record on civil liberties while in the Senate:

More importantly, Clinton adopted the DLC strategy in the way she governed. She tried to portray herself as a crusader for family values when she introduced legislation to ban violent video games and flag burning in 2005.

While generally extremely conservative, Antonin Scalia was often liberal on civil liberties issues. Slate has reviewed the occasions in which Scalia did side with liberals. This includes opposition to laws against both flag burning and restrictions on video games. Both were discussed in further detail, with the conclusions below:

In the end, Scalia’s vote was decisive: A bare five-justice majority ruled that the First Amendment protected the right to burn the American flag. An incensed Congress quickly passed a federal statute banning flag burning nationwide—a law which the same five justices struck down the very next term…

Once again, Scalia’s vote here proved decisive: He wrote a lively majority opinion for just five justices, holding that a state could not constitutionally forbid children from accessing violent expression. Two justices held that states could sometimes censor violent video games; two justices held that states always could. But Scalia’s spirited pro-speech opinion garnered the necessary votes to become the law of the land.

Clinton not only comes out unfavorably when compared to Scalia on civil liberties. Techdirt compared recent statements from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in which both showed their lack of respect for freedom of speech. Here is a quote from each, starting with Donald Trump:

We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet. We have to do something. We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some ways. Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people. We have a lot foolish people.

The speaking style was a little different, but the views expressed by Hillary Clinton were no different:

You’re going to hear all of the usual complaints, you know, freedom of speech, et cetera. But if we truly are in a war against terrorism and we are truly looking for ways to shut off their funding, shut off the flow of foreign fighters, then we’ve got to shut off their means of communicating. It’s more complicated with some of what they do on encrypted apps, and I’m well aware of that, and that requires even more thinking about how to do it.

Of course Donald Trump has made many other statements which are abhorrent on civil liberties issues, but it remains disturbing that on an issue as fundamental as freedom of speech there is so little difference between Trump and Clinton.

Often followers of a candidate demonstrate the same values as the candidate. I have found this to be the case with many followers of Hillary Clinton. I have received a lot of arguments from conservatives who disagree, and sometimes get quite upset, when I criticize Republican politicians. However I find the response from Clinton supporters to be even worse. They not only get upset about criticism of Clinton, but beyond disagreeing their arguments quite often center around claims that it is wrong to criticize Hillary Clinton. At least conservatives understand that criticism of their candidates is part of living in a democracy. Far too many Clinton supporters do not have this rudimentary understanding of freedom of expression.

Be Sociable, Share!

2 Comments

  1. 1
    Mahakal / מהכאל says:

    "During the 2008 campaign every Democratic candidate except Hillary Clinton refused to sign a pledge to restore Constitutional liberties."

    You might want to edit that for clarity, if Clinton is the only one who refused to sign.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Sentence got mangled with editing from original line (which was also confusing as it combined Democrats and Republicans). Will have to fix this. Yes, Clinton was the only Democrat who refused to sign.

Leave a comment