Does the government work for us, or do we work for the government? How can the president claim the lawful power to kill whomever he wishes and at the same time ask Congress to incapacitate our ability to defend ourselves against those who might seek to kill us?
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky struck a raw nerve in the weak underbelly of the Obama administration last month with his 13-hour filibuster. Mr. Paul was furious — as every other American should be — that the president refused to acknowledge that he does not possess the lawful authority to kill Americans with drones. The senator used the confirmation hearings of CIA Director John O. Brennan as a forum in which to articulate the principled constitutional argument that whenever the government wants the life, liberty or property of an American, it can obtain that only via due process.
Due process is the command of the Fifth Amendment. “Due process” is the jurisprudential phrase for a fair jury trial and the accompanying constitutional protections. The reasons we have these protections are the wishes of the constitutional framers that our natural rights — here, the rights to life, liberty and property and to fairness from the government — be guaranteed, and their fear that they not suffer under another Star Chamber. The Star Chamber was a secret gaggle of advisers to British kings that decided who among the king’s adversaries would lose his life, liberty or property without due process. Once that decision was made, it was carried out.
Mr. Paul articulated all of this during his filibuster. He did not read gibberish, as those who have filibustered in the past sometimes have done. He made principled moral and legal arguments for 13 hours. His arguments read like a passionate college lecture on personal liberty in a free society.
The next day, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sent a terse letter to Mr. Paul that reads in its entirety as follows: “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.” This is an unremarkable statement, but one that came about only after the senatorial equivalent of pulling teeth.
Mr. Paul’s filibuster was prompted by the administration’s repeated refusal to answer that question. Those refusals came from the testimony of Mr. Holder, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Mr. Brennan while he was the CIA director nominee. They all declined to answer the question of whether the president has the power to use drones to kill Americans in America, and they all referred the questioners to their boss in the White House.
Their boss in the White House has never publicly answered that question, but he has exercised that horrific power without publicly defending or legally justifying it. When attorneys for potential victims of presidential killings (how terrifying does that sound?) sought to ascertain the source of that power, the president dispatched Justice Department attorneys into court to persuade judges that the legal argument supporting killings is classified. That’s because, those Justice Department attorneys argued, the decisions to kill — just like the Star Chamber’s decisions to kill — are made in secret; hence, the legal support for the killings must be kept secret.
How could a legal argument be classified? How could a judge accept that sophistry? How could a president sworn to uphold the Constitution claim the power to kill people on his own?
As if to antagonize further those who believe the Constitution means what it says, the same president who insists he can’t reveal the legal basis for his killing wants to take away your right to self-defense against a killer, and he wants to prevent you from having the means with which to shoot at a tyrant should such a monster take over the government.
The reason we are a free and independent people today is our secession from Great Britain, and that secession came about only because we had the means with which to repel the soldiers of the British king. Without weaponry in the hands of ordinary folks and unknown to the government (so it doesn’t know from whom to seize weapons), we will lack the ability to repel a modern-day George III.
Today, we have a president who has sworn to uphold the Constitution but seems hellbent on violating it. He wants to use the force of legislation to weaken your right to self-defense, and he is using powers never granted to him to kill uncharged, unindicted Americans who his advisers in secret have decided must go.
The government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. Do you know anyone who consented to this? If you do, they consented for themselves. The rest of us will keep our lives, liberty and property and defy any government efforts to take them.
Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at the Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has written seven books on the U.S. Constitution. The most recent is “Theodore and Woodrow: How Two American Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedoms.”