Justice Dept. chokes out ‘undesirable’ businesses

Writing at USA Today, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit describes “Operation Choke Point,” a Justice Department program that might be one of the most disturbing tales of abused power in this whole “Tales From the Crypt of Liberty” Administration.  This might not be as egregious as illegally rewriting laws on the fly to help the Democrat Party survive ObamaCare, but it’s insidious:

A while back, some adult performers noticed that banks were terminating their accounts. The reason, it turned out, was a Justice Department program called “Operation Choke Point.” This program, apparently, seeks to target businesses regarded as undesirable — like porn — by hitting them at a financial “choke point”: their bank accounts.


Though the Justice Department can’t prosecute people for making porn, because the First Amendment prohibits that, and too many people would think of them as blue-nosed morality police, which is politically undesirable, it can use its power to put them out of business extra-legally, by pressuring banks to cut off their accounts. Prosecutors and regulators have a lot of discretion, and the threat to use (or abuse) that discretion in ways that make banks uncomfortable provides a lot of leverage. Sure, banks make money off of the accounts of porn performers (and other targeted businesses), but not enough to make up for the hassle of being targeted for harassment by the feds.

[...] It’s not only adult stars that are being targeted. Justice Departmenttargetsinclude industries as diverse as ammunition sales, coin dealers, payday loans, “racist materials,” etc. And, again, these are all legal businesses that haven’t been charged with breaking any laws — the Justice Department just doesn’t like them.

So what we have under “Operation Choke Point” is the government deciding it wants to put the squeeze on certain lines of (legal) business, for no other reason than that the Department of Justice doesn’t favor them. It seems almost like some sort of conspiracy to deprive people of their civil rights.

Where do we go to vote against the Commissar of Undesirable Businesses, if we decide we disagree with his or her judgments… once we penetrate the veil of secrecy and discover those judgments have been rendered?

No one’s even pretending DOJ had anything resembling the authority to do this.  As we’ve seen time and again during the Obama years – and a few times before that – a government agency simply decided something was a good idea, and did it.  It feels right, so it must be legal.

Reynolds wonders if a different Administration might come up with a different target list of legal but “undesirable” businesses – say, abortion clinics.  Of course, the very foundations of Olympus would be shaken by deafening howls of media outrage if a pro-life Republican President used Operation Choke Point tactics against Planned Parenthood, even though such action would be exactly as legitimate as what the Obama Administration has done here.  That’s a big problem, because it boils down to a permanent Ruling Class in bureaucracy and the media deciding what’s good for us… and targeting what is bad for us, without the sort of public debate and legislative action a free republic deserves.

It is extremely dangerous, and strongly antithetical to the American understanding of citizenship and government, to have the ruling elite presiding over a nebulous “legal but undesirable” classification rewritten at their whim… and enforced with government power.  The pursuit of “justice” by the Justice Department, or any other government agency, should involve criminals who act in defiance of clearly written law… which is another way of saying that government power must be constrained by our elected representatives and their congressional votes.  Instead, the American people are growing more accustomed to the titanic centralized State deploying its power against law-abiding businesses.  We’re being made comfortable with the idea that Big Government is a supreme organism with its own desires and agenda, which it often places ahead of its duties to the people and the law.

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