A law unto himself
Another state's attorney has decided he will not carry out his official duties because he opposes a law, but it's not within his purview to do so.
First, it was Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, both Democrats.
Now it's McLean County State's Attorney Ronald Dozier, a Republican.
Who will be the next public official to turn his back on his oath of office and decide, either for political or ideological reasons, that he will not carry out his official duty because of personal opposition to a particular state law?
Madigan and Alvarez announced a couple of months ago that they intended to ignore their statutory duty to defend an Illinois law declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman because they say they believe the law is unconstitutional. Their action followed a lawsuit filed in Cook County that seeks a court order legalizing homosexual marriage.
Last week, Dozier, angry that Illinois is the only state not to pass a concealed-carry gun law, issued a four-page statement announcing that his office will, as a matter of policy, not prosecute such cases.
"Do I continue to prosecute citizens who run afoul of state laws but have no evil intent or purpose in mind? Certainly, the more cautious approach to such controversial issues is to keep enforcing the law, when possible in the least harmful way, until enough higher court cases are resolved against them that the anti-Second Amendment folks are forced to change. I'm not willing to do that anymore — too many good people will be harmed," he said.
Dozier stated that "my purpose is to send a message to the governor and legislators of this state who continue to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and who continue to oppose reasonable legislation that would bring Illinois into compliance with the Second Amendment. I know that other state's attorneys share my view and am hoping they will join in this effort."
Supporters of concealed-carry legislation were quick to applaud Dozier's misguided action because they agree with his policy goal. Just like the zealots who applauded Madigan's and Alvarez's embrace of same-sex marriage, they don't see the threat to the rule of law that is on display here.
The good news is that Dozier's policy won't be in effect long. He's scheduled to leave office in November, and his successor, Jason Chambers, who is running without opposition for state's attorney, moved quickly to repudiate the incumbent's decision.
"Doing things in this manner is reckless. The job of the state's attorney is to enforce the law of the state of Illinois," he said.
Proper interpretation of Dozier's position is complicated because prosecutors possess enormous discretion in addressing the criminal cases referred to their offices. In other words, they can decide on a case-by-case basis the best approach to take, and their decisions could range from dismissing a case all the way to vigorous prosecution. How a case is handled depends on the nature of the case and the character and background of the potential defendant.
But Dozier did not say that he'll be weighing each case on an individual basis; he announced that he'll not prosecute a whole category of cases because he's angry the Legislature has not approved concealed-carry.
Dozier may well be correct that concealed-carry is a good idea. Legislators in 49 states agree with him. But the proper response for a prosecutor who feels as Dozier does is to petition the Legislature to change the law, not to take it upon himself to ignore the law.
As for his contention that the lack of concealed-carry law in Illinois is a violation of citizens' rights, it's laughable.
The two court cases he cites in support of that claim dealt with laws that barred possession of firearms in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The U.S. Supreme Court found that ordinances in those two cities banning possession of firearms violated the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. The court did not find that gun regulation is per se unconstitutional, but that barring possession is. There's a big difference.
Finally, it's not within the purview of law enforcement officials like Dozier, Madigan and Alvarez to decide willy-nilly that any state law is unconstitutional. That authority belongs strictly to the courts, and a prosecutor's job is to enforce the law in a reasonable way until and unless a statute is properly struck down by the judicial branch of government.
Those who feel strongly about certain issues have a hard time seeing it that way. They perceive the unsavory, unprofessional conduct of Dozier, Madigan and Alvarez as advancing their causes and embrace the notion that the ends justify the means.
To the contrary, the means being embraced by these renegade public officials breed disrespect for the law and deserve to be roundly condemned by everyone who believes that in a democratic society there's a right way and a wrong way to determine public policy.