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June 27, 2014

Should Citizens Be Allowed To Sue Government Workers For Misconduct?

As Ronald Reagan put it in his first inaugural address, "We are a nation that has a government -- not the other way around." But in an age where we have "swarms of officers" that "harass our people, and eat out their substance" to a degree that would have made George III blush, can anyone really say Reagan was right?

While Obama has made things worse, it's not as simple as that. Republicans have expanded the federal government beyond all reason and need as well. And that's just at the federal level. At the state and local level budgets are being strained and across the country tax rates go up or services are cut to pay for increases in public worker pay and to cover pension contributions.

And in return for maintaining public workers in a lifestyle they've come to enjoy, higher pay than the private sector that they "serve" and are funded by and almost no chance of getting fired, what are tax payers getting? In many cases harassed and bled dry.

How can we restore balance to the citizen-government official relationship? Some argue by allowing citizens to sue government workers personally and not hide behind the government would curb abuse.

In America’s first 100 years, federal officials could be sued in state courts for acting beyond their authority. In his book Creating the Administrative Constitution, Yale law professor Jerry Mashaw chronicles how this helped temper bad behavior.


The way to control this epidemic of government law-breaking is to allow citizen victims to sue, and legislate personally liability for bureaucrats guilty of willfully illegal conduct.

If the GOP were serious about tackling government abuse, it would initiate legislation now and even add private remedies to its platform. That would have wide support from the public.

Until government bureaucrats face the consequences of meaningful remedies, they will continue to act like America's untouchable class.

As a rule I'm opposed to opening up more avenues of litigation and the potential for abuse is clear.

Personally I'd support ending the civil service as we know it. It was originally designed to insulate government workers form acting as weapons for political figures but the evolution has lead to just that outcome but with the added danger of immunity, either administratively or legally.

As government has grown and liberal Democrats have flocked to government "service" we are in the position where the permanent government is essentially an extension of one political party. Even when Democrats are out of power their sympathizers embedded throughout the bureaucracy carry on their work immune from Republican pressure (to the extent they even want to exert it).

Of course the real solution is shrinking the size and scope of government but let's be honest, that's not on the table.

The House can hold all the oversight hearings it wants but until a fundamental reform of the public employee sector is on the table, don't expect anything to change.

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posted by DrewM. at 11:41 AM

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