Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has jumped on the recent bandwagon of declaring racism to be a public health crisis. He signed an executive order declaring this to be the case last Wednesday. As a Democratic governor in a purplish state, this was probably a no-brainer for Sisolak, though some might wonder why he waited this long when several other states, along with multiple larger cities and counties have already done it. His explanation, as shown in the excerpt below from the Reno Gazette-Journal, is pretty much standard boilerplate from the DNC and many activist groups. The real question, which we’ll get to in a moment, is what he does with this newly declared state of emergency.
Nevada is the latest state to declare racism a public health crisis.
In a state where minorities make up more than half the population, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday signed a proclamation aimed at raising awareness “so Nevada does not perpetuate poor health outcomes due to systemic racism during and after the pandemic,” according to a Governor’s Office press release.
Nevada is one of a handful of states, including Colorado, Ohio and Wisconsin and more than 20 cities and counties nationwide, to have declared racism a public health crisis.
“Institutional and systemic racism has gone on far too long in this country and in this state. Based on research, we are taking a proactive approach in joining fellow leaders around the country to declare racism as a public health crisis,” Sisolak said.
Let’s just get the obligatory observation out of the way upfront. Racism is bad, mmkay? I think everyone but a few holdouts from the Klan and the Neo-Nazis have put the pieces together on that one. Where the two sides in the current debate break down is in determining what actually qualifies as racism in the current era and what falls into the general category of labeling everyone that you have a political difference of opinion with as a racist or a Nazi. But that’s a sidebar that we can save for another day.
The next thing to make a note of is that racism, in and of itself, does not cause poorer health outcomes for minority citizens in America. At least not directly. Poorer health outcomes are consistently seen in areas where there are poorer educational outcomes, lower incomes and standards of living, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse and higher crime rates. And yes, all too often (though not exclusively) these conditions describe minority-majority neighborhoods, particularly in larger cities. Are those remnants of a time (sadly not that many generations ago) when racism was far more blatant and out in the open? Absolutely they are. When you’re starting from the bottom of the hill as opposed to halfway up it, the climb is more challenging.
But with all of that out of the way, let’s get to the real question I wanted to address today. So Governor Sisolak has declared a public state of emergency. That executive order, just like all of the ones dealing with the pandemic, opens the doors to all manner of mischief now that the Governor has his pen out and ready for action. We already know what sort of orders created outside of the legislative process have been issued in the name of stopping the spread of the pandemic. But what orders might we see coming down the pike to address racism?
I’m going to commit the horrible sin of quoting myself here. This is something I wrote back in March (which seems like a million years ago now) in a piece dealing with mayors sending in the police to break up parties in the name of flattenign the curve. The same principles apply here.
This circles back to questions I’ve raised here in the past about the limits of executive authority and emergency powers during a crisis. Just because the Mayor issued a public “order” for everyone to shelter in place and not gather together in groups larger than ten people, there was no new municipal ordinance passed. There is no law on the books that they could be charged with when they showed up in front of a judge. And as much as it pains us to admit it, stupidity is still not a crime.
Mayors and governors can issue orders like these and the courts have generally backed them up, at least for the duration of a significant crisis. But under the rule of law, we still rely largely on the cooperation of the public to achieve the desired effect. Are we seriously going to start throwing people in jail if they go to a party at their friend’s apartment?
If you don’t think this question applies to this new executive order, you haven’t been paying attention. There aren’t many limits to what executive branch officials at any level can do during a declared crisis. In Illinois, Black students will be allowed to return to in-person classes in school before White students. The same thing is happening in the Big Apple. What about when the long-awaited vaccines start becoming more widely available? Will they be made available in some specific order based on skin color? Do you think it couldn’t happen? As long as the state of crisis is in place, Governors can get away with almost anything. And by the time the court challenge is finished the point would likely be moot anyway.
As I said, I realize I’ve been beating this deceased equine since the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s more true today than ever. When the executives cut the legislatures out of the lawmaking loop, the fox is guarding the henhouse. And sadly, too many of them will take advantage of it. So what’s next? Which governor will declare gun violence to be a state of emergency and just start regulating the sale or possession of firearms by executive order? If you’re laughing at the idea, don’t expect any sympathy when it happens.