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Del Papa Loses Bid for Mob Rule

By Dan Steninger

n another blow to the War on Drugs, the dope-smoking lobby has beaten Nevada’s "top lawyer," Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, in a court of law. We’ll leave it up to readers to decide whether this turn of events is a commentary  

The issue was whether or not the state can limit contributions for or against the passage of ballot questions. In 1994 and 1996 Nevada voters fell for the baloney that elections would be sweeter and government would be better if they were to vote for limits on the amount of money people could contribute to political campaigns; and they voted for various "campaign reform" measures. These measures are known to insiders in the business as "incumbent protection measures," which serve to make it harder for outsiders to challenge those already in power.

But pass them the voters did; twice. That put the ballot language in the Nevada Constitution and forced the Legislature in 1997 to write some laws implementing the new limits. But legislators balked at writing laws they knew to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s protection of free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court twice has ruled that restricting the amount of money that can be spent on a ballot question violates that protection. So the legislators limited their new legislation to those seeking office and ignored the part about ballot questions.

Legislators knew the ballot question limits were illegal, and Secretary of State Dean Heller, in charge of the state’s elections, apparently understood that as well. So before he started limiting people’s political speech, he decided to run it by General Del Papa. Sure enough, she decided the Nevada Legislature and the U.S. Supreme Court were in error and directed Heller to impose the limits. Heller did; and was promptly sued.

Del Papa argued before U.S. District Judge Philip Pro that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the views of the Supreme Court notwithstanding, the limits should be upheld because the voters of Nevada approved them. To which Judge Pro responded: "The very purpose of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is to protect the rights of all citizens to express political or religious views which may be at odds with those of the majority."

Pro went on to rule the limits unconstitutional, thus handing a victory to Americans for Medical Rights, a group pushing a ballot initiative calling for the legalization of marijuana for those who have a medical need—or who can dream one up.

Judge Pro was pretty tough on Del Papa, as were a few editorial writers scattered across the state. But maybe everyone is being a little too harsh on her. Sure, anyone running for the office of Attorney General ought to have a vague understanding of the political system under which the state and nation operate; and we suppose she can be faulted for accepting a job for which she wasn’t qualified.

But Del Papa’s misconception that any law is OK so long as the majority of voters says it’s OK is a common one. Do we not, after all, teach our children in the public schools to which they are sent during their formative years that the United States of America is a democracy? Doesn’t the president of the country and all of the other political leaders prattle on about the glories of democracy at every opportunity? And, after that bit of misinformation has been rooted in the minds of all the people who have declined any independent study, why would they be expected to understand that some whims of the populace are simply off limits?

For the record, we do not live in a democracy. A democracy is a place where, if six out of 10 people agree, those six then can proceed to take away the four’s money, their property and their lives—simply by voting to do so. The U.S. is a constitutional republic. Supreme power lies in the body of citizens and those citizens are governed by representatives chosen by the citizenry (which is the definition of a republic) and who operate under the authority and control of the U.S. Constitution.

Not only is the United States not a democracy, it has protections against democracy—an unjust and impractical form of government also known as mob rule. The chief protection is that Constitution which details what our government can do and decrees that any other actions will be off limits. So, then, when the mob thinks opponents of the status quo should be muzzled when it comes to supporting ballot questions, as in the current example, the mob is just out of luck. The mob’s power to run roughshod over the minority is checked by the constitutional provision guaranteeing all citizens the freedom of speech. u

Dan Steninger is the Editorial Page Editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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