The topic of this year’s convention is the rule of law and the current crisis. And I take it that the title is intended primarily to refer to the COVID-19 crisis that has transformed life for the past eight months. The pandemic has obviously taken a heavy human toll, thousands dead, many more hospitalized, millions on employed the dreams of many small business owners dashed. But what has it meant for the rule of law,
I’m now going to say something that I hope will not be twisted or misunderstood. But I have spent more than 20 years in Washington, so I’m not overly optimistic. In any event, here goes. The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty. Now, notice what I am not saying or even implying, I am not diminishing the severity of the viruses threat to public health. And putting aside what I will say shortly about a few Supreme Court cases, I’m not saying anything about the legality of COVID restrictions. Nor am I saying anything about whether any of these restrictions represent good public policy. I’m a judge, not a policymaker. All that i’m saying is this. And I think it is an indisputable statement of fact, we have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced, for most of 2020.
Think of all the live events that would otherwise be protected by the right to freedom of speech, live speeches, conferences, lectures, meetings, think of worship services, churches closed on Easter Sunday, synagogues closed for Passover on Yom Kippur War. Think about access to the courts, or the constitutional right to a speedy trial. trials in federal courts have virtually disappeared in many places who could have imagined that the COVID crisis has served as a sort of constitutional stress test. And in doing so it has highlighted disturbing trends that were already present before the virus struck.
Fifth, he discussed the broad delegation to government to deal with “emergencies” and “rule by experts.”
One of these is the dominance of lawmaking by executive Fiat rather than legislation. The vision of early 20th century progressives and the new dealers of the 1930s was the policymaking would shift from narrow minded elected legislators, to an elite group of appointed experts in a word, the policymaking would become more scientific. That dream has been realized to a large extent. Every year administrative agencies acting under broad delegations of authority churn out huge volumes of regulations that dwarfs the statutes enacted by the people’s elected representatives. And what have we seen in the pandemic sweeping restrictions imposed for the most part, under statutes that confer enormous executive discretion?.
We had a covid related case from Nevada. So I will take the Nevada law as an example.