Mark Hemingway has written a damning piece on “human rights” and “civil rights” commissions.
Most people live in total ignorance of “human rights” or “civil rights” commissions, until they run afoul of them. They began popping up all over the country in the 1960s and ’70s, and now nearly every state and good-sized municipality has one. In theory, they were set up to handle the flood of discrimination cases that was expected to overwhelm the legal system after the flurry of Great Society legislation. Local human rights commissions were expected to resolve these disputes quickly in administrative tribunals. In practice, however, the commissions have never really served enough of a purpose to justify their existence. They’ve devolved into bureaucratic star chambers with the power to ruin your life and run you out of business.
As governmental entities, they are odd ducks. Their Members don’t tend to be elected. Like regulatory bodies, they can issue fines and mete out various punishments.
But here is where things get weird. These commissions, Hemingway reports, often pay their operating costs by collecting fines. And by virtue of their jurisdiction, “civil rights” and “human rights” commissions seek to punish behaviors that often involve individual rights. So, for example, a bar owner in DC made up a name for a drink that the DC Human Rights Commission found racially offensive. The bar owner was given a choice: immediately delete the offending text, or suffer a fine of up to $10,000. The commission also contacted the District’s alcoholic beverages licensing agency, which imperiled the bar’s future renewal of its liquor license.
But wait—it gets more problematic. When these commissions come down on someone, there is no immediate opportunity to appeal to a court for a stay or even a hearing. Instead, says Hemingway, the accused must fight the commission in a quasi-juridical hearing held by….yes, the commission itself. (Which, again, financially benefits from extracting fines from purported malefactors.)