By John Klar
Vermont governor Phil Scott announced on June 5 that social distancing requirements would not be enforced against Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters at coming events because they are exercising “their constitutional rights.” The governor’s stunning epiphany means he has finally come to comprehend that in Vermont, the United States Constitution actually does apply. This is great news for Vermonters — in almost all past decisions, the governor has demonstrated a total obliviousness, if not hostility, to citizens’ rights.
This is the governor who decided in 2018 to abandon constitutional protections of the right to self-defense when he signed a sweeping gun bill that banned high-capacity magazines and imposed universal background checks on gun sales. A current gun bill (H. 610) is even more blatantly unconstitutional, but the governor has been silent.
This is the governor who used COVID-19 to close farmers’ markets and numerous businesses in a haphazard fashion, with unclear guidance and even less clear constitutional authority. He delegated responsibility to municipalities to require people to wear masks, while insisting that the president of the United States holds zero authority to tell Vermonters to reopen their communities. Governor Scott has been consistently partisan when invoking and ignoring constitutional rights, consistently progressive.
Phil Scott objected publicly when Donald Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides in the riots at Charlottesville, and the governor passionately called for the Minneapolis police officers who killed George Floyd to be charged with murder. But he did not condemn the two instances of speech-blocking protests against conservative speakers at Vermont’s prestigious Middlebury College. Now the governor has announced that left-wing radicals who are blatantly violating his COVID-19 restrictions are free to disrupt Vermont streets. (He has not spoken against climate protesters who have disrupted traffic and events, either.)
Phil Scott displays similar favoritism toward progressive ideology in other applications (or denials) of constitutional safeguards:
- Immigration. The governor opposes federal immigration laws (Vermont municipalities presumably have constitutional jurisdiction there, as with masks).
- Transgender surgeries for minors. Governor Scott has vocally supported the provision of surgeries to reconstruct sex organs for minors at public expense without parental notification. What of parents’ rights?
- Abortion and fetal personhood. Governor Scott signed the most permissive abortion law in the nation, stating that solely a woman and her physician decide when life begins.
- TCI and GWSA. Governor Scott has not opposed the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) and the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). These laws grant unlimited powers to government over property rights and business viability.
- Remote voting by legislature. The GWSA is being voted in remotely without normal public involvement, under the cloak of COVID-19. Phil Scott has not objected to remote voting on these and other massive bills — but surely there are constitutional questions about the appropriateness of what is now an essentially closed-door restructuring of Vermont’s entire economy and powers of government?
- Mail-in voting. Is this constitutional? The Vermont Legislature is completely sidestepping the Executive Branch of government, and there is not a peep of protest from its governor, who says “he wouldn’t stand in the way if lawmakers decided to take away his authority over the upcoming elections.”
Perhaps Sean Manovill, the Rutland gym-owner who struggled to maintain his business in the face of the governor’s orders, was simply protesting. Surely his constitutional right to oppose the governor’s elimination of his livelihood merits as much recognition as political protests over an out-of-state incident with police.
It appears that basic constitutional freedoms are being deliberately discarded by the left and that Vermont’s governor is a willing ally in this dismantling. Vague demands for “universal rights” that require government domination and wealth transfers have replaced the constitutional heritage of our forebears. Scott has cast off even the pretense of conservatism, revealing himself to be an active agent of a progressive agenda.
Vermont’s governor has silently acquiesced as the Green Mountain State has become the playground of those bent on destroying American foundations of constitutional protections. Meanwhile, BLM protesters descend on the Vermont State House on June 7 with the governor’s blessing, in a public demonstration on public land, where the U.S. Constitution applies — but where only black voices will be allowed to speak. The event’s organizers state that there is an “open mic for black voices.”
Yes, BLM has banned white people from speaking on the lawn of the Vermont State House. Perhaps Governor Scott will publicly share his opinion on the constitutionality of this development, since white citizens are prohibited from protesting by a mob of people who have been exempted from compliance with social-distancing requirements … by the Governor.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. He is running for governor in 2020. This commentary originally appeared at American Thinker.