Like millions of other Americans watching Monday Night Football this week, I was in disbelief. It didn’t matter what team you were rooting for, if you had even one good eye to see with, you knew that the losing team got robbed by an obviously wrong ruling on the field. The call was so obviously incorrect that every commentator, especially former players and retired referees, were dumbfounded and nearly speechless.
Most people who follow sports know that the referees’ association in the National Football League went on strike weeks ago and refuse to work until they get a better contract. The NFL, for its part, has failed to successfully negotiate new contracts. In the place of seasoned referees, the NFL hired high school and community college referees to work its professional games. Folks, that’s like asking a kid with a new chemistry set to judge Nobel Prizes in science – it’s not that the kid isn’t interested in the subject, it’s that he’s not capable of judging anything at that level of skill and talent.
The results have been mayhem, confusion, contradiction, inconsistencies, too many missed calls, too many calls altogether and, very often, decisions made from total ignorance. If you’re playing the game, you never know what to reasonably expect – the game feels lawless – and because you never know what to reasonably expect, you begin to purposefully violate rules you otherwise would not. A culture of lawlessness creeps into the game.
This whole NFL experience got me thinking about the rule of law in society – its complexities, its importance and especially what it means to human relationships and cooperation when the rule of law breaks down.
This is a point I’ve made in the past and it’s a point I continue to make on various public policy issues such as when government plays favorites in the business world or especially on the subject of illegal immigration.
For instance, throughout the contentious debate over illegal immigration, supporters of enforcement-only policies, policies such as those passed in Arizona not long ago, have cried foul. They’ve insisted that illegal immigration is patently unfair to anyone enduring the excruciatingly unjust legal immigration process. They complain incessantly that American workers are at a disadvantage when undocumented workers do jobs that American citizens are reluctant to do. They cast blame on what they see as the “enemy” or as their “competitors.”
As in the highly controversial Monday Night Football game, the enemy to the losing team wasn’t its opponent. The losing team, while disappointed, surely would have respected their opponents under normal playing conditions. The enemy of both teams, as it turns out, is not the opponent but the incompetency of those authorized to execute the rules of play.
I have long argued that the rule of law in immigration policy is broken. Incompetent politicians have been tasked with law making when, so clearly evident, they’re unqualified to do so. They’re no different than these unqualified referees. The rule of law, whether in football or immigration policy, cannot be made up out of whole cloth. There are too many smart people who know better, who know when the laws are unfair, who know that reasonable people cannot live with unreasonable laws. Bad laws often create the lawbreaker and immigration is Exhibit A, just as the NFL is Exhibit B on another playing field.
In the rule of law, the rule matters more than the law and the rule must be just and justly executed for our laws to mean anything. I’m not arguing against honest disagreements any more than I’m arguing against honest competition. I’m saying that the rule of law requires competent and reasonable people to establish and administer it and, when we fail, well, it looks like that unfortunate football game.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.