It is a bedrock principle of a fair and just society that all people should be equal in the eyes of the law. No person or group of people should be afforded special privileges or immunities unless they are rationally justified and explicitly written into the law. For example, in an emergency situation, emergency vehicles may violate traffic norms because response time is critical and perhaps even life-saving.

Special interest groups of all types try to use the power of government to gain advantages that are not rationally justified, or that infringe on individual rights. Businesses ask for special subsidies or tax breaks for their industry. Developers ask for public funds or guarantees to bolster their projects. Guilds seek to restrict competition. Unions ask for negotiating power over the organizations with which they negotiate.

Proponents of these special privileges will naturally argue that they are rationally justified. But how can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate privileges? Legitimate privileges must have a narrowly-defined and short-term scope that does not create a long-term advantage for one person or group over another.

The government creates illegitimate advantages for itself too. The idea of sovereign immunity is inherited from English common law, and was the theory that the King, as the source of law, was not bound by law. That attitude may seem quaint, but it is pervasive: In 2008, a judge was reluctant to fine a Portland police officer who parked in a no-parking zone in a non-emergency situation. That reluctance is the influence of sovereign immunity. It is the impulse to treat the government as if it is above or exempt from the laws and norms that the rest of us must follow.

Sovereign immunity is extended to specific government agents, such as judges, prosecutors, and to a lesser extent police, to shield them from liability when they do wrong, even very serious wrong like manufacturing evidence to obtain a conviction. But sovereign immunity is just a tradition from common law — it can be reformed by statute. I would scale back sovereign immunity to deter wrongdoing by government agents, and to enable victims to get the compensation they deserve.

Individuals should be equal to each other, and to the government itself, in the eyes of the law. Everyone, including the government, should be subject to the same rules. Privileges for special interest groups, including the government, are fundamentally unfair and should always be viewed with skepticism and concern. The government should not pick winners and losers, reward popular groups, or stifle unpopular groups.

I will be a determined proponent of legal equality and opponent of special interests, whether from the private or the public sector, and will work to reform the laws and traditions that create illegitimate advantages for politically-connected groups.

© Kyle Markley
Candidate for Oregon State Representative, District 30