Randy Barnett is one of the most brilliant legal theorists on the right today. He’s also a libertarian. Ever since I came across his work in the course of my research on Justice Scalia, I’ve been fascinated by him. No matter what you think of his politics, he’s always worth reading.
“I am as libertarian today as I was” in 1975, writes Barnett in today’s Wall Street Journal [pdf of entire article here], when he attended his first Libertarian Party convention. And that is why he’s voting tomorrow for Mitt Romney. And urging other libertarians to do the same. Because a vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson is, well, I’ll just let Barnett explain it in his own words.
The Libertarian Party’s effort will, if effective, attract more libertarian voters away from the candidate who is marginally less hostile to liberty [Romney], and help hand the election to the candidate who is more hostile to liberty [Obama].
We often hear that libertarians care about much more than the rights of property and freedom of contract. They loathe the drug war, imperialism, and social conservatism, and are as far away from the Republicans as they are from the Democrats. They stand for a government of limited, federated, and separated powers because that is how personal liberty is best secured. Here’s how one of their most influential and important advocates thinks about these things.
Some libertarians continue to insist that, because the Republican and Democrats are equally bad for liberty, it makes no difference who gets elected. However true this once was, in recent years Republicans have been better for liberty and Democrats have been worse.
It was a Democratic Congress and president who gave us the federal takeover of the health-care industry that will bring us closer to a Western European-style social democracy. All four Democratic-appointed Supreme Court justices voted to uphold ObamaCare as constitutional, with four Republican-appointed dissenters.
Are Democrats better than Republicans on personal liberty? Neither has been great on that score, but Democrats have been the bigger disappointment. When I took the medical-marijuana case to the Supreme Court in 2004, I got zero votes from the left side of the court while garnering the votes of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O’Connor. And President Obama’s Justice Department has reneged on his campaign promise to refrain from going after medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Neither party wants to question the futile and destructive “war on drugs.” But Republicans have been much better on free speech in recent years. With respect to economic liberty, the Environmental Protection Agency has restricted land use throughout the nation and would do more if not stopped. Dodd-Frank has amped up restrictions on financial services.
Libertarians need to adjust their tactics to the current context. This year, their highest priority should be saving the country from fiscal ruin, arresting and reversing the enormous growth in federal power—beginning with repealing ObamaCare—and pursuing a judiciary who will actually enforce the Constitution. Which party is most likely to do these things in 2013?
Citing the Republican Congress under George W. Bush, some libertarians contend that divided government is best for liberty. Yes, divided government is good for stopping things (until some grand deal is made). But divided government won’t repeal ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank or give us better judges.
h/t Alex Gourevitch
Update (November 6, 7:45 am)
Mike Konczal writes on my FB page:
It’s hidden in the Barnett piece, but I read it as there’s been so much organizational effort and success in getting the GOP to adhere to far-right Supreme Court justices, that the best libertarian play is to try and Lochner-ize the Court (which it could do with two more votes). I think he’s right that that is their best play.