The rule of law.
Many pundits–including yours truly–throw that term around, assuming readers understand its elements. I think most Americans do recognize one of those elements–the principle that no one is above the law, that the rules apply to everyone, very much including Presidents and lawmakers.
There are other principles that are less-well understood, however, and one of them is specificity. If laws are to be obeyed, they must be explicit. They must describe the behaviors being prohibited (or required) clearly, in terms that allow citizens to fully understand them. When courts strike down laws for being unconstitutional, it is often because those measures have been found to be unconstitutionally vague.
That required specificity is among the many, many things that far too many legislators ignore. Texas comes immediately to mind, but the following example is from Ron DeSantis’ Florida–a state that is beginning to resemble Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
As Daily Kos — among others–recently reported:
There are more than 500 entries for Florida in PEN America’s ever-expanding list of books banned in American schools. These include what should be obviously innocuous titles like the “Zen Shorts” series by Jon Muth, which are some of the best children’s books available to parents and teachers. This effort to remove books about Black and LGBTQ+ people and characters from schools and libraries is a part of a larger effort to sanitize our country’s history. Like almost all efforts that pass for conservative “policies” these days, citizens of all ages are widely opposed to the bans….
DeSantis and his team of book-banners also highlighted the need to criminally punish teachers or librarians who give out books people like DeSantis deem pornographic. Mind you, our federal government (and Florida itself) already has laws outlining what is and is not considered pornographic. And there are also laws that prohibit books, images, and videos that sexualize minors…
Judd Legum over at Popular Information has gotten his hands on some of the Florida books that have been banned and the stated reasons they were banned. You would be hard-pressed to figure out how the previous statements above have any bearing on the decisions being made about libraries in the Sunshine State.
The article links to PEN’s report on the multitude of books that have been removed from Florida classrooms and it’s as jaw-dropping as you might imagine. The extensive nature of the list is an artifact of an unconstitutionally vague statute–a truly excellent example of a law that violates the specificity required by the rule of law. That’s because, In Florida, while there may be a few books deemed “pornographic,” most of the books that have been banned are attacked under the “how vague can you get” term “inappropriate.”
Rather obviously, my definition of “inappropriate” and yours may differ substantially.
The linked article suggests that the DeSantis Administration finds books depicting racism in negative terms to be “inappropriate.” For example, the Florida Department of Education announced that it rejected 35% of social studies textbooks submitted to them. One of those–a book for 6th to 8th graders– was evidently rejected for containing the following section:
“New Calls for Social Justice
During the 2000s, one effect of an increase in the use or mobile devices and social media was the spread of images of police violence, sometimes deadly, against Black Americans. The deaths of Black Americans outraged many Americans and led to a crowing awareness of systemic racism that permeated the broader society.
In 2013, a new social and political movement called Black Lives Matter formed to protest violence against Black Americans. The movement called for an end to systemic racism and white supremacy.”
Lest anti-Semites feel neglected by Florida lawmakers’ focus on protecting racism, the state has also rejected education about the Holocaust, finding it “woke.”
Florida’s state education department rejected two new Holocaust-focused textbooks for classroom use, while forcing at least one other textbook to alter a passage about the Hebrew Bible in order to meet state approval…
“Modern Genocides” was rejected in part for its discussion of “special topics” prohibited by the state. The list of such topics includes terms such as “social justice” and “critical race theory,”a phrase that traditionally concerns a method of legal analysis but that Republicans have used pejoratively to refer to discussion of systemic racism in the United States. The department did not clarify which prohibited “special topics” the book included.
Florida evidently considers accurate history and support for civic equality as (equally-vague) “woke” and thus “inappropriate.”
Maybe we should get rid of speed limits and just prohibit “driving too fast.” We can trust the police to decide who’s speeding–right?
Just like we can trust Florida’s current government to decide what’s “inappropriate.”