Democratic bill to bar militia activities faces constitutional questions
ORGANIZED MILITIAS HAVE BEEN a part of America SINCE BEFORE IT’S INCEPTION.
IN FACT – DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION – MILITIAS WERE THE BACKBONE OF THE FORCES.
THEY WERE CALLED “MINUTEMEN” AND WERE groups of MEN – BETWEEN THE AGES OF 16 AND 60 – WHO WERE EXPECTED TO SERVE, KEEP ARMS AND TRAIN.
EVERY TOWN WAS EXPECTED TO MAINTAIN AT LEAST ONE MILITIA, COMPRISED OF 60 MEN – AND WOULD SERVE AS THE IMMEDIATE DEFENSE DURING AN ATTACK. THEY WERE LEGAL and designed TO PROTECT THE STATE.
TODAY’S MILITIAS AREN’T REGULATED BY THE GOVERNMENT.
AS UNIVERSITY OF LAW PROFESSOR ERIC BERGER NOTES, TODAY’S SO-CALLED MILITIAS ARE VERY DIFFERENT FROM THOSE OF OUR NATION’S HISTORY
[ERIC BERGER / EARL DUNLAP DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF LAW, AT UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA AT LINCOLN]
“So in the 18th century, for context, militias usually were state-operated groups. They often directly answered to the government. So, the 18th century militia was a pretty different animal than contemporary or what one might call, militia groups.”
FOR YOU – WHAT COMES TO MIND?
FOR SENATOR ED MARKEY OF MASSACHUSETTS AND REPRESENTATIVE JAMIE RASKIN OF MARYLAND – MILITIA GROUPS ARE FAR-RIGHT EXTREMIST GROUPS LIKE THE PROUD BOYS AND THE OATH KEEPERS.
SOME OF THEIR MEMBERS STORMED THE U.S. CAPITOL ON JAN. 6 2021 – THEY WERE DECKED OUT IN TACTICAL GEAR, breaking barriers, scaling walls and bursting into Senate chambers.
TRYING TO PREVENT CONGRESS FROM CERTIFYING THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS.
ENRIQUE TARRIO, THE FORMER NATIONAL CHAIRMAN FOR THE PROUD BOYS, WAS CONVICTED OF SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY AND SENTENCED TO 22 YEARS IN PRISON.
OATH KEEPERS FOUNDER -STEWART RHODES-WAS CONVICTED FOR THE SAME – AND HE’S SERVING 18 YEARS.
HUNDREDS more RIOTERS HAVE BEEN sentenced FOR THEIR ROLES IN THE ATTACK AND HUNDREDS MORE REMAIN UNDER INVESTIGATION.
ON THE THIRD ANNIVERSARY OF THE RIOTS —
THE TWO DEMOCRATIC LAWMAKERS INTRODUCED A BILL TITLED “PREVENTING PRIVATE PARAMILITARY ACTIVITY”
ITS GOAL – TO FEDERALLY PROHIBIT PRIVATE MILITIA ACTIVITY.
RIGHT NOW – “ALL 50 STATES PROHIBIT PRIVATE, UNAUTHORIZED GROUPS FROM ENGAGING IN ACTIVITIES RESERVED FOR THE STATE MILITIA” ACCORDING TO GEORGETOWN LAW SCHOOL – AND THE LAWS DIFFER FROM STATE-TO-STATE.
SENATOR MARKEY AND CONGRESSMAN RASKIN WOULD LIKE TO SEE PARAMILITARY ACTIVITY BE CRIMINALLY PROSECUTED on the federal level SAYING STATE LAWS ON THE BOOKS NOW ARE OUTDATED, UNENFORCED, AND SOMETIMES, IGNORED.
THEY SAY THEIR PROPOSED BILL WOULD PROHIBIT ARMED MILITIA GROUPS FROM ORGANIZING AND CARRYING OUT THEIR MISSION – TO OVERTHROW THE GOVERNMENT.
THE BILL WOULD PROHIBIT THE FOLLOWING…
“PUBLICLY PATROLLING, DRILLING OR ENGAGING IN HARMFUL OR DEADLY PARAMILITARY TECHNIQUES”
“INTERFERING WITH OR INTERRUPTING GOVERNMENT PROCEEDINGS”
“INTERFERING WITH THE EXERCISE OF SOMEONE ELSE’S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS”
“FALSELY ASSUMING THE FUNCTIONS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND ASSERTING AUTHORITY OVER OTHERS”
AND “TRAINING TO ENGAGE IN SUCH BEHAVIOR”
PROFESSOR BERGER SAY IF A BILL LIKE THIS WERE TO BECOME LAW – IT WOULD HAVE TO BE NARROWLY WRITTEN BECAUSE IT WOULD FACE THREE CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES.
THE FIRST? THE ARGUMENT THAT THIS WOULD BE BEYOND THE SCOPE OF CONGRESS’ POWERS.
“One would be to argue that this is beyond the scope of Congress’s power. I think that’s probably pretty unlikely to succeed since the constitution gives Congress the authority to discipline the militia.”
THE OTHER TWO CHALLENGES INCLUDE THE POSSIBLE INFRINGEMENT OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS PROTECTED UNDER THE FIRST AND SECOND AMENDMENTS.
“There is a second amendment right to keep and bear arms but its not an unlimited right and it does not include the right to keep and bear arms to try and overthrow the U.S. government or even to try to assume governmental functions or supplant the government.”
“For the First Amendment freedom of speech, there is obviously important freedom of speech in this country and that does include the right to criticize the government and criticize the government strenuously, but it does not include the right to advocate or incite the tempts to overthrow the government or to incite other illegal behavior.”
SO – THE “PREVENTING PRIVATE PARAMILITARY ACTIVITY” ACT COULD BECOME REALITY.
“It depends hat the bill says, the specifics of the language would matter a lot and how the Department of Justice chooses to prosecute cases under it, but again, I think if the bill were framed narrowly, it could probably survive both of those constitutional challenges.”
HOWEVER – PROFESSOR BERGER SAYS – IT’S UNLIKELY CONGRESS WOULD BE ABLE TO PASS THE BILL AT THIS TIME.
“I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that contemporary Congress is pretty dysfunctional. So the odds of getting it through the senate and especially the House right now given that Republicans control the House, is unlikely. Not impossible but pretty unlikely.”