Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Mitt Romney, defender of the Constitution. Jay Fitzgerald has a fascinating item on Mitt Romney's inconsistent stand on patronage (jobs for his top-level supporters, a meritocracy for everyone else). "He didn't make that distinction before the election, so he's probably going to take some heat for it now," writes Fitzgerald. The most interesting part, though, is Fitzgerald's discussion of a 1990 US Supreme Court decision, Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, in which the Court held that patronage is unconstitutional in hiring government workers because it violates their First Amendment right to hold the political views of their choice. The one exception: top-level appointments, the theory being that elected officials need to fill the most important jobs with people with whom they agree, and who will be committed to carrying out their agenda.

The majority opinion was written by a liberal, Justice William Brennan, who opens in this vein:

To the victor belong only those spoils that may be constitutionally obtained. Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976), and Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980), decided that the First Amendment forbids government officials to discharge or threaten to discharge public employees solely for not being supporters of the political party in power, unless party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the position involved.

Well, now. Romney must certainly take comfort in knowing that he can wrap himself in the Constitution as he goes about rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies.

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