Editor’s note: This letter is by Adrian Otterman, an attorney with the law firm Otterman and Allen, located in Barre.
Letter to Editor:
With the utmost respect for our health care community, and with the fear and health of my neighbors in mind, please allow me to politely engage in some “crime think.” George Orwell defined “crime think” as the act of holding politically unorthodox thoughts which contradict the ruling authority. Throughout his novel, “1984,” and in the appendix thereto, Mr. Orwell explains the purposes of “newspeak” such as “crime think.” One purpose of a government’s attempts to alter or simplify language (“newspeak”) is to eliminate the historical meaning of phrases in an effort to make it impossible to engage in unorthodox, political thought. I am saddened by our government’s use of “newspeak” in connection with its response to this new coronavirus.
Vermonters are notorious for speaking the Yankee truth. We are the governing power of this state and we exercise that power by electing representatives. We expect those representatives to use “old speak” honesty so that we may properly compare and contrast their actions and decisions to those of the past. The governor’s so called “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, though undoubtedly well-meaning, is an offense to those principles and to all Vermonters.
My quick review of Black’s Law Dictionary provides no definition for a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. Thus, as a citizen, I am unable to compare and contrast this order with similar historical dictates. What I find instead is an entry for “martial law.” Black’s Law Dictionary defines martial law as a state that “exists when military authorities carry on government or exercise various degrees of control over civilians … a system of law, obtaining only in time of actual war and growing out of the exegesis thereof, arbitrary in its character, and depending only on the will of the commander of an army … martial law is neither more nor less than the will of the General who commands the army. It overrides and suppresses all existing civil laws.”
He may flower it up in “newspeak,” but Governor Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order is a declaration of martial law.
Pursuant to Chapter 2 of the Vermont Constitution, the Governor is the Commander in Chief of the military forces of the state. That commander has declared martial law based upon the emergency management provisions set forth in Title 20 of our Vermont Statutes. These provisions provide him with authority to enforce laws, control traffic, prescribe speed limits, give direction to boards of health, utilize state facilities, employ resources of the state, establish agencies, cooperate with the President of the United States, order evacuations, facilitate construction of electric transmission facilities, issue temporary permits, lease or lend assets, enter into contracts, seize property, distribute properties seized, compensate owners for property seized, and “to perform and exercise such other functions, powers and duties as may be deemed necessary to promote and secure the safety and the protection of the civilian population.”
The Commander in Chief’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Martial Law order is, presumably, based upon that last phrase of the statutory provision. Whether or not this provision actually authorizes the governor to suspend portions of the Vermont Constitution is not the subject of this letter; rather, it is my intention to demand that our elected officials speak plainly to us plain-speaking Vermonters.
Governor Scott may issue press releases merely “encouraging” us to cease gathering, cease person-to-person business, and to stay at home, but his actual declaration directs and mandates it. By the order, the governor has deprived us of some of our constitutional rights. By using newspeak, he has deprived us of the ability to effectively debate whether the order is appropriate. After all, who could possibly disagree with a “Stay Safe” order?
Adrian A. Otterman, Esq.
OTTERMAN AND ALLEN, P.C.