GOP hazy on civil liberties

The Republican Tea Party has an opportunity to clear up questions about its commitment to the civil liberties and constitutional rights of every American this week, when the House Judiciary Committee marks up the Legal Workforce Act, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

As The Hill previously reported, some Republican lawmakers and Tea Party groups have raised opposition to “E-Verify” legislation based on concerns including civil liberties, threats to the Constitution and every American citizen, and the unfair impact compliance costs would have on small businesses. 

These concerns are not only contradictory to parts of the GOP doctrine, they are also strikingly similar to concerns raised by civil rights activists and others regarding the serious threats to liberty and constitutional protections represented by immigration laws like Arizona’s S.B. 1070 and a slate of new voter-ID laws currently being introduced by Republicans at the state level. 

 In a letter to members of Congress, Tea Party groups stated: 

“[E-Verify] violates the philosophy of the Constitution and intent of the Framers by subordinating the liberty of citizens to the administrative convenience of government. And the Founding Fathers would have rebelled against such a staggering federal intrusion into every workplace in the nation and our personal civil liberties.

“The dangerous and intrusive precedent set by the bill opens the floodgate of additional incursive and contentious employment verification hurdles. Mission creep is the signature of all bureaucracies.”

 S.B. 1070 and its legislative offspring codify racial profiling, requiring local law enforcement (with the threat of prosecution) to use a test of “reasonable suspicion” when stopping or detaining an individual to determine if he or she is in the country legally. If E-Verify is an intrusion, being profiled, predominantly based on looks or skin color, as one drives to the grocery store or talks with neighbors, should also meet that test. And like E-Verify, there is “mission creep” by requiring local law enforcement to do the federal government’s job and opening the door to incursions on the liberty of law-abiding American citizens. 

 Tea Party groups say that E-Verify establishes “a de facto national ID system” that would require every American to “ask permission from the federal government when hiring or being hired,” which sounds a lot like concerns about voter-ID laws .

 Voter-ID laws also impose unfair financial burdens and bureaucratic hassles disproportionately affecting minorities as individuals, as they must pay a fee or “poll tax” to obtain a new state-sanctioned identification. States have also imposed new restrictions on voter registration drives, requiring groups (predominantly nonprofits) to comply with a barrage of complicated bureaucratic requirements. All are similar arguments used by Tea Party groups and some conservatives who have said E-Verify’s compliance costs pose unfair burdens on small businesses. Certainly, if we’re concerned about undue burdens on small businesses and Americans exercising their right to work, we should hold at least as high a concern in protecting every American trying to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote, as well as the organizations that are lawfully helping people to do so. 

The Republican Tea Party has consistently scoffed at any suggestion of racism or prejudice. Applying its energy to support efforts to protect the civil liberties and constitutionally guaranteed rights of every American — including Hispanic, African-American, Muslim and others who might look different — is a good place to start.

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant.