Charlie White, the GOP, and the Rule of Law

After the Republicans in the Statehouse passed House Bill 1242, changing the election law in order to avoid the consequences of having run an ineligible candidate, my husband shook his head. “It’s enough to make you ashamed of ever having been a Republican.” This from a man who worked for the GOP for over fifty years–working on campaigns, working at the polls, driving people to vote, and serving in a Republican administration.

We have both bemoaned the radicalization of the party we used to call ours: the mean-spiritedness, the shortsighted focus on tax caps at the expense of public goods, the homophobia and the thinly veiled racism that emerged in the wake of Obama’s election. But HB 1242 is nothing less than an attack on the rule of law.

John Adams famously said that our constitution established the rule of law, not the rule of men. The Founders gave us limited government. That didn’t mean that the size of government was to be limited, as many seem to think. It meant that the same rules have to apply to everyone, that there are limits to the ways in which official power can be used.

Scholars identify eight elements of the rule of law:

  • Laws are necessary, and must apply to all–including government officials.
  • Laws must be published.
  • Laws must be prospective in nature so that the effect of the law may only take place after the law has passed.
  • Laws must be reasonably clear and specific, in order to avoid arbitrary enforcement.
  • Laws must avoid contradictions.
  • Laws cannot require people to do impossible things.
  • Law must stay sufficiently constant through time to allow rules to be understood; at the same time, the legal system should allow for timely revisions when the reasons for the law have changed.
  • Official action should be consistent with the declared rule.

Our sense of fundamental fairness is offended if someone is punished for violating a rule that was passed only after he acted. We would be outraged if a person who violated an existing law managed to get it changed so that he escaped punishment. We might not be able to point to the precise element of the rule of law that had been violated in such cases, but we’d know instinctively that it was wrong.

This over-reach by the Indiana GOP has generated a petition drive, asking Governor Daniels to veto the measure. I don’t hold out much hope, but I signed the petition, and I hope many others will as well.

If the legislature ultimately decides that current laws governing electoral vacancies should be changed, fine. Those new rules can be applied prospectively, to future cases. Changing the rules when they fail to favor you, so as to escape the consequences of your own misbehavior, isn’t just unfair. It isn’t just contrary to the rule of law.

It is unAmerican.


  1. I’m no scholar in this field, but I have serious questions as to whether they can change this thing retroactively. I think that hinges on whether the office will become vacant at some future date, in which case, the law passed now should probably govern; or whether the office is actually, in a sense, vacant *now* because the apparent election of Charlie White was a nullity in which case, under the law in place when the nullity occurred, Vop Osili is the duly elected Secretary of State.

  2. I read some articles based on some of your other posts on this matter. I am not usually one for conspiracy theories, but, do you think that some of the Republicans encouraged him privately to not resign. I suppose, I would question the timing of this bill, and given the nature of the bill how fortuitous it is that White has decided to withhold his resignation. What do you think?

  3. I rather doubt that-I think it would have been better for the Republicans had he stepped aside when his unqualified status first emerged, before the election. The party could have replaced him, the replacement would have won (Indiana would have elected your Aunt Agatha’s cat if it had an R by its name), and all of this would have been avoided.

  4. It is an offense to think I have to make a donation in order to sign this petition! I went to sign, but I will not pay for the privilege to cast my vote!

  5. dunno about this one – obviously Charlie needs to get thrown under the bus (see the Real Madrid trophy Thing). Now, assuming that people honestly decided that Charlie as a person was the better candidate is stupid – no one ever knows who is the Secretary of State, even after they’re elected – Christ, half the population thinks it involves foreign policy. The Secretary of State, like the Treasurer and a few other simpleton jobs on the ballot, gets elected because they’re from one party or another, and this time around, that party is popular. I don’t see an ounce of sense in electing jobs like that – they simply don’t make any policy, they just execute some function, so, perhaps, if we have to have silly elected positions like them, if the bozo we elected gets trashed, maybe it’s closer to the will of the people that we shove in some other bozo from the same party.

  6. Thank you for the explanation. I am interested in politics, but I have no practical experience interacting with politicians. I appreciate your insights.

  7. As co-editor of a free local monthly progressive newspaper in Lafayette, I would greatly appreciate permission to reprint this article.

    Roberta Schonemann
    Co-editor Lafayette Independent

  8. Some is calling the plays and it is not Senator Michael Young and that’s ok. But what is not ok is to change the game while it still in play. Moving the goal posts (the election law) retroactively is not right, it not fair, and it be illegal. Just because you caught with your hand in the cookie jar (fraud) there are limits to which elected officals power can be used. (abuse of the law) Personally I seek to be ruled by law – not by men in high places.

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