America has a nobility problem, and it means our leaders don’t pay for their failures, by Glenn Reynolds.
Politicians and bureaucrats are America’s ruling class and they should start paying a price for failure. Accountability isn’t just for little guys. …
America absolutely does have a ruling class, and a permanent political class, and they seem to be increasingly one and the same. (As Angelo Codevilla writes: “Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust.”) And like any ruling class, they claim, and possess, privileges and immunities not available to ordinary citizens.
The continued use of titles that in fact were briefly loaned by the people — “Governor,” “Madame Secretary” — is the least of this. The single biggest characteristic of today’s nobility is impunity, and — just as with the privileges associated with titles of nobility in the England our Framers rejected — this privilege extends not only to the titled, but to their retainers, in this case police and other government bureaucrats.
In America, if you misunderstand the law, or simply are ignorant of it, you will nonetheless be liable to go to jail or be sued — if you are an ordinary citizen. If you are a government official, you can generally avoid liability in a lawsuit by pleading “qualified immunity,” meaning, in essence, that you misunderstood the law or were ignorant of it, but acted in good faith, a defense that is not available to ordinary citizens. As a judge or prosecutor it’s even better: you enjoy “absolute immunity,” meaning that in almost every circumstance you can’t be sued at all.
These governmental immunities aren’t in the Constitution, and they’re not the product of statutes passed by Congress. They were invented by judges (themselves government employees) who thought immunity for government employees was a good idea. And government officials almost never face criminal prosecution for their official acts, and on the rare occasions that they do, they are almost never convicted.
When the EPA poisoned the Animas River in Colorado, it rejected claims for damages, and nobody from the EPA went to jail. A private company under similar circumstances would have faced ruinous losses, and the executives would have risked criminal prosecution. Then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy skated.
When the IRS’s Lois Lerner deliberately targeted conservative groups — something the IRS admitted and apologized for — she retired with her pension and faced no charges. When Chinese hackers stole a vast database of secret military and intelligence personnel information, a blow some experts called a “cyber-Pearl Harbor,” nobody lost their job or went to jail. Accountability, it seems, is for the rest of us, the little people.