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PIPA and SOPA: Dead for now, but…

January 22, 2012

…Like a villain in a bad Hollywood horror movie, PIPA and SOPA will be back.  The relentless nature of politics is, as this writer remarked earlier today in a Sunday school class, such that only one issue [outside of wars actually fought] has ever been finally settled in American history – slavery, via the Civil War.  That may be an over-simplification, as I expect that civil rights legislation is safe from repeal, er cetera, but the ease with which exceptions may be named proves the rule.  That is how our system is designed.  Change comes slowly, and the losing side in a debate, even one lost at the level of the Supreme Court, lives to fight another day.  (A Constitutional amendment , for example, trumps a Supreme Court decision.)

The above is good, but it also means that bad ideas never really die.  A former state senator of the author’s acquaintance once told him that he’d sit on a bill for 10 years, if necessary, until the time was right for its’ passage.  ‘Log rolling,’ or the exchange of votes between legislators for support on one bill with the expectation of cashing in the IOU for a similar vote later on, is a fact of parliamentary government, as Nobel Laureate James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock demonstrated in his classic ‘The Calculus of Consent.’ Dedicated supporters of these bills will be back, and their powerful and wealthy patrons will not let them forget to re-introduce them, perhaps in the dead of the night, or as riders to other bills, or by some other expedient designed to prevent a filibuster or other delaying tactic designed to kill the bills.  (Senators Rand Paul [R-KY] and Ron Weyden [D-OR] threatened filibusters of SOPA and PIPA, respectively.)

The next attack may not even be legislative in nature.  This President, or a future one, may choose to try and implement the essential elements of these bills through agency rulemaking, wherein a federal department or agency with oversight for a certain area of activity might choose to regulate under the (supposed) scope of their existing powers.  It might be the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or some other body, but the threat of this is real.  A Presidential ‘Executive Order‘ might also be used to implement portions of these bills.

In short, this battle, like every other high-stakes battle of our politics, will be fought over the long haul and on many fronts.  the front door is barred, for now, but locks can be picked, windows rattled, and back doors broken down.  For those of us who have an interest in defending our rights from infringement, only eternal vigilance and coordinated, informed, reasonable action will prevail.  Liberty is a journey, not a destination, and every citizen in more than name should undertake the pilgrimage now.

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