A recent tweet from retired judge, current Rhode Island Board of Elections member, and Ken Block agitator Steve Erickson inadvertently raised a critical point of difference between government insiders and (some of) the rest of us. He insisted that a driver’s license or Social Security Number is still mandatory for voter registration in Rhode Island. And then:
You are not an expert here, not an attorney, have not reviewed all the law, so pointless to argue with Koch funded group.
— Steve Erickson (@sericksonri) October 15, 2017
This statement so well captures progressive thinking — as if the law should be this mysterious thing that only a clerical class of lawyers can interpret, as proclaimed by an oracular order of prophetic judges. Let’s review basic civics.
We elect representatives to pass laws with the expectation that we can hold them accountable when they do not behave in our interests. We elect an executive under similar principles who then goes about applying the legislation in the operation of the government. In this case, that’s the Board of Elections, as appointed by the governor.
When there is disagreement about how the law should apply to a specific circumstance, the judiciary is authorized to be the final voice on which interpretation is correct. At that point, if the electorate doesn’t agree, they push the legislature to change the language of the law to conform with the intent of the people.
In this case, as I described in the article at the top of Erickson’s thread, the U.S. Congress required license or Social Security ID from any and all voter applicants who had been “issued” one. After some ebb and flow, the Board of Elections decided that anybody registering for the first time in person didn’t actually need ID.
It’s that plain.
If judges have somehow interpreted the language of federal law to mean something other than what it plainly says, then they are in the wrong. Insisting that it is somehow inappropriate for the general public to point out that the practice of the law doesn’t match the language of the law is to demand a level of trust to which no free people should consent. Frankly, it’s disconcerting that somebody who served as a judge and now has direct authority over our democracy would be so dogmatic in his support of clerical aristocracy.