The issue her opponents inexplicably leave on the table: Nikki Haley’s disregard for the rule of law

I don’t suppose we should be surprised that Nikki Haley treats “lawyer” as some sort of cussword, because she’s shown time and again that she has little regard for the law itself.

Cindi Scoppe detailed, in her column yesterday, the known instances in which our governor has acted as a law unto herself since taking office. Here’s the list:

Gov. Haley first overstepped her authority at the end of her first legislative session, when she ordered the Legislature back into “extraordinary” session because it failed to pass a bill that she supported. (It was a bill I supported as well.) That would have been counterproductive even if she had the constitutional authority to do it, because it angered the legislators whose votes were needed to pass the bill. But she did not have the constitutional authority to do it. Legislative leaders sued, and the Supreme Court overturned her order.

Before that first year ended, she had assumed police powers, unilaterally imposing a curfew on Occupy Columbia protesters who had camped out on the State House grounds, and then having them arrested when they refused to comply with her unlawful order. (I think camping out on the grounds should have been illegal, but at the time it simply was not.) In issuing a restraining order, a federal judge noted that the governor was “making up” the rules as she went along. Our bill for that incident alone was more than a half million dollars.

In early 2012, when the state Supreme Court ordered party and election officials to obey a ridiculous but valid state law, Gov. Haley marched over to the state Republican Party headquarters and persuaded the GOP executive committee to ignore that order and put her favorite candidate back on the ballot. The Election Commission refused to acknowledge that lawless action, saving the governor and the party the ignominy of being found in contempt of court.

Later that year, the Legislature passed a budget that fully covered the increased cost of health-insurance premiums for state employees and retirees. Gov. Haley could have vetoed the funding but chose not to. Instead, when the perfunctory matter of approving insurance rates came before the Budget and Control Board, she persuaded the treasurer and comptroller general to join her in requiring state employees and retirees to pay part of the increase themselves. And again, I agree with her policy preference, but she simply did not have the authority to act. State employees sued, and the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the governor and her co-conspirators had violated the constitution by usurping the Legislature’s power to write the law.

As far as I know, Gov. Haley has not directly overstepped her authority since then. But her fingerprints were all over her DHEC director’s decision last year to tell hospitals, nursing homes and other health providers that they could ignore a state law that required them to get a certificate of need before making large purchases, after the Legislature failed to override her veto of the funding for the program. Once again, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that this was completely lawless — but not before Lexington Medical Center and several other health providers spent huge amounts of money on expansion projects that they might have to abandon. And we’ll pay for that as well, through our medical insurance.

We are supposed to be a state of laws and not of men — or women, either. But our governor doesn’t get that.

Yesterday, at a lunch in connection with the Bernardin Lecture at USC (I’m on the committee; last night we hosted Sister Joan Chittister as our guest lecturer), the philosophy professor next to me got to talking first about Heidegger, then about the rise of the Nazis. At one point, he said something like (I wasn’t taking notes), “It’s a terrible thing when leaders see themselves as no longer bound by law.” He wasn’t talking about the Holocaust, or dragging the world into war. He was simply bemoaning the loss of the rule of law, as Hitler transitioned from chancellor to Führer.

Being very careful to say that we were talking about something several degrees of magnitude less evil or severe, I noted that we were seeing the same sad principle at work here in SC.

But Nikki Haley is no Hitler, not even a minor-league one. In fact, it’s not even a “degrees of magnitude” thing. I don’t see any evil at all in her. What I see is a terrible naivete, of a sort that you don’t ever want in someone in charge.

I think that at every stage in the incidents Cindi detailed, our governor meant well — by her lights. She meant no harm to anyone. As Cindi noted, in some instances she was trying to do something good. The restructuring measure she wanted lawmakers to come back and pass was something our state needed (and eventually got, largely thanks to Vincent Sheheen). And no, people shouldn’t be allowed to camp on the State House grounds. Trouble was, there was no law saying so at the time. The shenanigans she got up to with the state party were far less benign, but I think she honestly believed it was good for her chosen candidates to win.

No, the problem with Nikki Haley is that she simply doesn’t get something fundamental about the concept of the rule of law.

This is of a piece with her cluelessness on other things that an educated person who understands how the world works would get. If you’ll recall, back in the days that I was still endorsing her for legislative office, I found disturbing her unquestioning faith in such simplistic and erroneous nostrums as “I want to run government like a business.” Yes, a lot of people say that, but not people who understand government and business, and how they are not only different but supposed to be different. (You might call this, with apologies to Hannah Arendt, a case of being banal without being evil.)

She is innocent of such understanding. That doesn’t make her a bad person. But it makes her unqualified to govern.

As Cindi ended her column:

That is not just notable. That is frightening. That is the stuff of dictators and tyrants. That, more than policy or personal characteristics, is reason to replace her.

It’s frustrating that neither Vincent Sheheen nor Tom Ervin has pointed out this glaring abuse of power on the governor’s part. Perhaps they think voters wouldn’t get it, or wouldn’t care. And indeed, a lot of people — especially those who find the governor’s chip-on-the-shoulder, anti-intellectual populism appealing — would not. They’d dismiss talk of the rule of law as “lawyer double-talk” or some such, I suppose.

Perhaps such ignorance can be excused in a voter, if you’re really inclined to be forgiving. But not in one who would govern.

20 thoughts on “The issue her opponents inexplicably leave on the table: Nikki Haley’s disregard for the rule of law

  1. Mark Stewart

    Given her regular ethical lapses, the idea of rule of law is a bit of a stretch for Haley.

    These lapses do make her a bad person, whatever she may project. One may not understand ethical behavior, but that in no way equates to “innocence”.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Not just ethical lapses–making up the law as she goes along! This is worse than representing a hospital and working to get laws passed to benefit the hospital. She had people arrested based on a nonexistent law, using police powers she seized!
      Banana republic stuff!

  2. Bryan Caskey

    William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

    Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

  3. Doug Ross

    There are too many laws and regulations. Unfortunately, you have to get a group of lawyers to agree to eliminate them. Blue laws, the tax code, mortgage closing b.s., drug laws, probate.

    Yahoo has a story up today about a guy having to pay child support for a kid he didn’t father and the government response was basically “you needed a better lawyer”. DNA test didn’t matter.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Doug, this isn’t a case of too many laws. This is a case of not enough laws — there were NO laws giving Nikki the authority to do these things.

      Before you have a bunch of harmless people arrested, it’s a good idea to check and make sure there’s a law empowering you to do so…

    2. Bryan Caskey

      “Yahoo has a story up today about a guy having to pay child support for a kid he didn’t father and the government response was basically “you needed a better lawyer”. DNA test didn’t matter.”

      That sounds preposterous. Link?

      1. Doug Ross

        “7 Action News spoke to workers at Friend of the Court. They could not talk about Alexander’s case specifically. They say many people don’t understand how to handle their cases, because it is a court. They recommend people promptly address issues in their cases with the help of an attorney. Alexander says at one point he did hire an attorney, but it did not help him. Taking a look at his case, one attorney says it appears no motion was ever filed to declare that the summons that was not delivered to him is null and void. Alexander could try that. Alexander says the process shouldn’t be so bureaucratic and hard to figure out.”

        “We know this is not my child so let’s do what we need to do, what’s right,” said Alexander.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          “Their records confirm Alexander’s story – he did not receive that order at a home in Highland Park. He was in prison for a crime he committed as a young man.”

          /doing the doggy head tilt again while reading this

          I assume by “order” they mean the original summons. If that’s true, then they never properly commenced an action. To commence an action you have to file the action AND serve it. You can’t serve someone with process at their house if they’re in jail. You go serve them in jail. I serve people in jail on occasion. It’s actually quite easy, since you know…they’re in jail.

          Seems like any halfway decent lawyer could get the entire thing set aside, by using…the law.

          “Service of process is necessary in order to satisfy the due process requirements of the US Constitution. Therefore, where sufficient notice of an action has not been given, and a default judgment has followed, a motion to set aside the judgement should be granted.” Roche v. Young Brothers, 313 S.C. 356 (Ct. App. 1993)

          Basically, you can’t sue someone, fail to give them notice of the lawsuit, and then win. We have a particular law about it. It’s been around for a long time. This guy should hire a lawyer, perhaps even a trial lawyer.

          1. Mark Stewart

            I came home yesterday evening to find a Notice (for a Deposition) rubber-banded to my front door from the County Sheriff’s Civil Process Division. It was for someone else – who I found lives more than three miles away from me. Had I thrown it in the trash, who would have had to fix the situation – the attorney who addressed the wrong residence or the guy they wanted to serve? My money would be on the guy who lives across town, even if everyone says no big deal, honest mistake.

            As annoying as it is, at least physically serving people puts the document in their hand.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          The poor guy did not follow proper legal channels to get the summons vacated. Maybe if we funded Legal Aid better, folks could follow the rules better.

          1. Doug Ross

            He had a freaking DNA test proving he wasn’t the father. He shouldn’t need a lawyer. Some bureaucrat should take the initiative to straighten it out immediately. Nope..too many rules. Not my problem. Gotta follow procedure.

            1. Bryan Caskey


              What would you do, Doug? Would you sit around and wait for a “bureaucrat” to “take the initiative” on your behalf, or would you go hire a lawyer and resolve the issue yourself?

              This is why we HAVE lawyers.

            2. Doug Ross

              I would stand in the bureaucrats office and ask them to help me fix an obvious broken situation. Then if I didn’t get the answer I wanted, I would get the press involved to expose the stupidity. I would not pay a dime to a lawyer to fix something I didn’t break. He didn’t break a law. The law failed him and someone in charge should fix it. He did nothing wrong. Why is that hard to understand? He’s got proof he’s not the father. The problem should be able to be resolved in 5 minutes without a lawyer. Open up his file and click “delete”. Done.

            3. Doug Ross

              You’re too deep into the process of the law to see that it is not a legal issue. It is a paperwork issue.

            4. Doug Ross

              This is the equivalent of expecting someone to hire an advocate to help negotiate with a plumber before he repairs an overflowing toilet. Both parties know what needs to be done already.

  4. Michael Rodgers

    Here’s another example, not lawlessness based on naivete exactly but but doing wrong by going along:

    As Professor Brooks D. Simpson put it in a tweet “The governor mangles history to applease Confederate heritage advocates.”

    If you follow Prof. Simpson’s tweet’s link to his blog post “Quote of the Week: October 19-25, 2014 … or Nikki Haley Gets It Wrong” you’ll see the letter by Gov. Haley, in which she wrote, “[Matty Clyburn Rice] was determined to give her father, Weary Clyburn, the recognition he deserved for his service as a volunteer in the 12th South Carolina Infantry of the Confederate States of America.”

    The trouble is, as Prof. Simpson also tweeted, “Perhaps @nikkihaley @SCGOVOFFICE will explain how slaves ‘volunteer’ to ‘serve.'”

Comments are closed.