Upholding the Rule of Law with SCR 45

On Tuesday, we overrode Gov. Nixon’s veto of Senate Concurrent Resolution 46, which disapproves an administrative rule that purported to require certain government contractors to pay a higher minimum wage than required by state law.

This resolution came out of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, of which I am the chairman. The committee’s role is to review new administrative rules to determine whether they comply with existing state laws. Statutes create administrative agencies. To create any new rule, an administrative agency must be able to point to a statute that grants them authority.

For SCR 46, the Department of Health and Senior Services proposed a rule that would have raised the minimum wage for home health care workers to $10.15 an hour. Whether this is good policy is not the issue. The question for SCR 46 was whether the department had the authority to promulgate the rule. In the hearing before JCAR, the Department conceded it had not taken the steps required to promulgate a rule.

At the start of the debate this week I made a prediction: that the opposition would never argue that the department actually had the authority to promulgate the rule. Instead, they would argue the policy’s merits.

The opposition did not disappoint. For over an hour, they avoided the actual question under debate. To his credit, Rep. Michael Butler (D-St. Louis) made the first attempt all session to defend the rule on its legal merits, arguing that the statutes were vague enough that the Department could do this. Then he concisely summarized the lawless argument his side has made on this all session, “We’re going to turn away a wage increase on something technical. The minority party is standing against this bill for the sake of the people. We’re caring about people. Forget the technical. We’re caring about people. … And the majority party is saying, ‘You know what? The people don’t matter as much as the rule of law.’”

Rep. Butler misses the point of the rule of law – and confuses the American and the French Revolutions. The American Revolution focused on principles of freedom protected by a Constitution. The French Revolution focused on the people. The American Revolution led to the greatest nation on earth. The French Revolution led to blood-shed. Its early leaders ended in the guillotine.

There’s nothing technical about upholding the rule of law. A lawless society is a society where no one is protected, and it the rule of law itself that is the greatest protector of the people. Perhaps there’s no greater depiction of this than in the movie, “A Man for All Seasons,” in which St. Thomas Moore is asked why he would give his worst enemy the benefit of the rule of law:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

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 give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!