A group of young Montana Republicans aligned with the Libertarian movement has gotten an awful lot of press for their “liberty” position during the session. While some of this praise is certainly warranted, they undermine their own credibility—and expose the privilege problem at the root of libertarianism– when they vote against those very same privacy protections for women and the poor.
I don’t disagree with a lot of their positions. I’ve been opposed to civil asset forfeiture since I researched it extensively for debate, way back in 2000. I think our unreasonably stoked fear of crime has led to a climate where law enforcement is given too free a hand to investigate people, just as our fear of terrorism has given government intelligence agencies far too much power. We need to reign in law enforcement and restore rights that feel as if they have eroded in an era of high-tech and high-force policing.
But if you are committed to the principles of liberty and privacy, you don’t get to put those aside when it comes to the reproductive health of women and the rights of those who are less privileged in our society. The GOP “liberty” caucus has been very silent, if not hostile to the privacy rights of women who want to seek legal medical services. No matter how you spin it, a cell phone does not deserve more privacy protection than a woman’s body.
And just last week, those Republican members of the MT House who have spent the session braying about their defense of liberty voted to require welfare recipients to undergo drug testing to receive their very limited benefits.
One of these libertarian Republicans, Daniel Zolninkov, explained his vote this way:
HB 200 requires a form that asks individuals if they are on drugs for temp assistance of needy families. This does not require a drug test. I voted yes, it passed.
But that’s just not true. The law requires recipients of TANF to fill out a questionnaire about their drug use, and says “If the results of the written questionnaire indicate a reasonable likelihood that the applicant has a substance abuse disorder involving the misuse of a controlled substance, the applicant shall complete a drug test at the department’s expense.”
This law is an ineffective bill, an expensive bill, and a discriminatory bill. Targeting an already disadvantaged group of people who receive government benefits while ignoring the tens of thousands more who also receive government benefits but happen to have more wealth strikes at the heart of our constitutional protections, which are premised on the belief that all people deserve them.
Needing a temporary helping hand from government assistance programs is not probable cause of a crime, no matter how supporters of this bill spin it.
Given the testimony of the disgruntled DPHHS workers from Libby and Kalispell a few weeks ago, how can anyone think that it’s a good idea to give someone the ability to mandate a drug test based on a “reasonable likelihood”?
Privilege is one of those fraught terms that people who possess privilege never like talking about, but a group of middle-class men legislating and bloviating about privacy rights while voting to deny it to women and the poor, both of whom are underrepresented in the Legislature, is its very definition. It’s hard to take the liberty movement seriously when its focus seems to be on protecting the rights of those who have the least to fear from an intrusive state or overly aggressive law enforcement.
Every time I’m tempted to believe that the libertarian movement is about anything other than protecting the rights of those already privileged in our society, those libertarians remind me of the truth: that liberty for some can never be justice for all.