Our government is based on constitutional limits to power. It is therefore bitterly ironic that Lois Lerner now avails herself of those constitutional protections after abusing her prerogatives as a civil servant in a position of power to—by her own public admission—target, harass, and intimidate her political opponents. Even so, the beauty of our system of government is that everyone has the same rights, even those who seek to destroy the very document that confers those rights.
In the film, A Man for All Seasons, Saint Thomas More, patron of lawyers, sets out the case for limits on power. In this dramatization, the offender is not a malfeasant IRS official, but the Devil himself:
WILLIAM ROPER: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
SIR THOMAS MORE: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
WILLIAM ROPER: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
SIR THOMAS MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
There is some discussion in legal circles of whether Lerner voided her right to invoke the Fifth Amendment by giving a lengthy statement to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee professing her innocence. Perhaps there is some merit to this claim, but it is better to err on the side of caution. After all, the Fifth Amendment is based on the very same English common law protection that Saint Thomas More himself invoked when compelled to testify that he could not accept a law that placed the king above his conscience. As the saint warns us, the laws that protect the Devil today will also protect us tomorrow.
Indeed, the scandalous activities at the IRS are so broad and so extensive that the truth will most certainly come out. We must not jump to any conclusions about Lerner’s silence, but her actions are a matter of public record. Every email that she received and every memo that she signed will no doubt be released under the Freedom of Information Act and scrutinized for clues to her involvement in the targeting of conservative groups.
If we must resort to abusing the law and distorting its protections to punish Lois Lerner and her accomplices for their evident misdeeds, then we would only vindicate her actions. Instead, we must put our faith in the Constitution. Every word that defends the dignity of our human condition imbues that faded parchment with a sacred and holy aura. That sacred document is the best antidote we have to the Devil that lurks in the hearts of men and women like Lois Lerner.