I hate the New York state legislature.
Seldom has a more useless or amoral group of scallywags been gathered together in one place.
They are an enemy of my wallet, my freedom, and my future. They aren’t human.
But they are American.
And even they have rights.
And so I raise my voice to challenge the announcement yesterday by the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York that his office will claim the files of the defunct state Moreland Commission and take up its broad-ranging investigation of New York state legislators.
The commission was convened a year ago by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It was payback for the legislature’s failure to enact his agenda of ethical reform. He told the commission to investigate the legislature in a search for bad conduct and criminality.
It was a witch hunt.
With subpoena power and a limitless mandate, members of the Assembly and Senate found themselves raked over the coals and compelled to turn over personal and business information that had nothing to do with their part-time legislative duties.
Every legislator was a suspect.
On emotion, I was glad to see them squirm. On principle, I was shocked by what could only be called a political persecution.
The governor was unhappy with the legislature, so he made every member of the body the potential target of a boundless criminal investigation.
Which would be fine.
If this was China or Russia.
But not America.
Because what has been forgotten – by the governor and now by the U. S. attorney – is the Fourth Amendment.
In America, we believe that the authorities must have probable cause to investigate people. The intrusive investigatory power of government can only be unleashed when specific suspicion of a specific criminal conduct exists against a specific individual.
And while cynically we might say that being a politician is cause enough to suspect criminality, legality it doesn’t quite reach the standard.
Which gets back to legislators being Americans.
As Americans, they are protected against witch hunts, from either the state or federal governments.
The Moreland Commission was a Fourth Amendment-defying witch hunt. The governor put that to an end last week. Now the federal Justice Department wants to take it up.
The U.S. attorney wants the files of the commission, and to continue the investigation of the commission.
That is not right.
The Moreland Commission investigation was never legitimate, and it does not become legitimate in federal hands.
Not a single legislator is publicly suspected of violating a single law. There is no probable cause of anything.
And if the United States attorney believes a crime has been committed, he has access to the FBI and other federal law-enforcement agencies to investigate it. Further, he has the power to convene a federal grand jury.
There is no legal rationale under which the U.S. Justice Department can take over a state investigation in this way. Due process and rule of law are insulted by this matter.
And the most basic of constitutional protections against government abuse are ignored.
That is always horrifying.
What makes this even more troubling is the fact that it is directed against elected representatives of the people. The commission was created as political punishment, it is continued as political intimidation.
How freely can the members of the Assembly and Senate vote on matters involving policies of the federal administration when that administration has an open-ended investigation against them?
Yes, politicians need to be better scrutinized. But you can’t do the right thing the wrong way, and you can’t defend freedom by threatening freedom.
The Moreland Commission should never have been formed. The governor was right to kill it. The U.S. attorney is wrong to resurrect it.
The Fourth Amendment is still valid.
There must be probable cause to investigate people, even politicians.
And those of us who would look the other way because of our contempt for the legislature and its members ought to ask the question: If the federal government will do this to some of the most powerful people in the state, what will it do to the rest of us?
New York state legislators aren’t quite human.
But they are American.
And this isn’t supposed to happen in America.