Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rand Paul's Principled Stumble

Rand Paul has taken a principled — but politically incorrect — position, for which he's being pilloried. A look behind the 6-second-sound-bite version of his position might be helpful.

Despite how his comments have played, Paul has said he is glad that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. He accepts the Civil Rights Act as settled U.S. law — not to be revisited by the courts despite possible constitutional infirmities.

But, though the Supreme Court upheld the 1964 act, the law has a disputable constitutional pedigree. The Civil Rights Act addresses the conduct of private individuals, so it is not easily shoehorned into the 14th Amendment, which constrains only government conduct. And the act has nothing to do with reducing state-imposed obstacles to the free flow of interstate trade — so it should not have been legitimized under an original understanding of the commerce clause.

Still, the law was affirmed — and deservedly so — by the court because it helped erase an unconscionable assault on human dignity.

So Paul stands foursquare for civil rights but acknowledges the Civil Rights Act's possible disconnect from the Constitution. His position is therefore intellectually honest, unlike those who insist that, because the Civil Rights Act is beneficent, it must necessarily be constitutional.