The Tea Party movement started from a belief that Washington is out of control. This belief led Tea Party after Tea Party to adopt the core value of limited government under the Constitution. But there is a type of local and state agency that is also out of control, and offends our core values, as well.
I’m talking about local and state human rights commissions. Critics say they are runaway trains, run by left-wing political hacks, untrained, who think nothing of trampling on the separation of powers, free speech, and due process rights. Masterpiece cake baker Jack Phillips was the victim of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Some of the commissioners stated their view that there is no room for religion in the public sphere and, further that Phillips’ faith was “despicable”. They compared his widely-held religious views to defending slavery or the Holocaust. The Supreme Court struck down their enforcement action against Phillips because they were openly hostile to religion.
Phillips is not the only victim. Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania human rights commission took upon itself the power to puff up a state statute forbidding discrimination on the basis of ‘sex’ to include ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘transgender’ claims. Also this month, the Connecticut human rights commission ordered all employers in the state not to discriminate against job applicants with dishonorable discharges from the military. I don’t know about you, but these sure sound like questions for the state legislature to me.
A recent panel presentation reviewed a number of other cases from around the country. In Fort Worth, the commission has the power to investigate and issue determinations. In New York City, the commission can levy fines and file criminal proceedings. In Orange County, California, the commission was prepared to condemn a university instructor for hate speech without ever watching the videotape of the event in question. In Anchorage, Alaska, the head of the commission swore out a complaint against an attorney who was representing someone before the commission for remarks the attorney had made to the media.
In Oregon, the staffers bringing the claims and the administrative law judge – who is not a lawyer - work for the same agency, breaching separation of powers. Procedural safeguards are limited – discovery is minimal and the rules of evidence don’t apply – you can be done in by hearsay. In one case, the commissioner had made prejudicial statements to the media, but a motion to disqualify him for bias was rejected. In another instance, the defendants had a gag order placed on them – they could not defend themselves or discuss their beliefs in the media while the case was pending.
This is just a sampling of what has been going on with these commissions. So what can be done about it?
Republicans in Colorado introduced legislation to change the way human rights commissioners are appointed, beef up the oversight they receive, and allow parties to skip the commission altogether and go right to court. They later agreed with Democrats just to increase the size of the commission and subject it to a legislative audit. I don’t know where things stand in Colorado at the moment, but now would be a good time for activists to agitate for stopping unelected runaway commissions in other states that are misusing 14th Amendment Equal Protection to engage in social engineering and impose their left-wing political agendas on the rest of us.