There has been much ado about the fact that Lois Lerner has refused to resign. Who is Lois Lerner? Well, she is the IRS official who headed the unit in Cincinnati that excessively investigated any group that had “Tea Party” or any of several other phrases used by conservative causes. Various Congress members and media personalities have negatively on her “failure” to resign. But, they are mistaken on several levels.
When most people think of government officials they are often thinking not about your typical government employee, but about the political appointees. But, the typical senior government employee and a political appointee are two vastly different creatures. A political appointee is a senior government official at a high level. However, they serve strictly at the pleasure of the President and normally their term is limited to the term of the President, unless that person is released sooner or the next President keeps them on.
Meanwhile a non-political senior government employee is just that, an employee who has the same rights that you and I do in our jobs. Among them is the right to not be fired for cause unless that cause can be proven. Particularly federal government employees are protected from being fired “at will” because of the previous long history of abuses before the civil service system was started. It was not unusual in the 19th century for hundreds, nay thousands, of government jobs to be purely political appointments that were under the political patronage of the President, Senators, Representatives, even Governors. This cause great havoc and upheaval in the system every time that a President changed.
Political appointees resign during a scandal both because they have no job guarantee and because part of their role is to be willing to “fall on their swords,” take the blame, and insulate the President from the effects of a scandal. Trivia question: which Israelite king fell on his sword when the battle was lost?
But, a regular federal employee is not expected to “fall on their sword” in case of a problem. In fact, they have the same rights as you and I, plus the right to not be fired “at will,” and the right to have the “cause” proven in a firing “for cause.”
Ms. Lerner is proclaiming her innocence. And she is insisting that her guilt be proven in a disciplinary proceeding or in a court case. She has pleaded the protection of the Fifth Amendment on the grounds that if she is facing a possible/probably court case then she has the right not to possibly incriminate herself. Rather, it is the responsibility of a prosecutor or an appropriate disciplinary proceeding to prove her guilt.
The IRS has correctly placed her on paid leave until the investigation is finished. But, those who insist that she should have resigned or that she should have been fired or that she should have been placed on leave without pay need to be cautious. All employees (and all citizens) are entitled to the rights given to them under the law. Whenever we insist that a person be fired without hearing or disciplinary procedure we endanger the rights that we all enjoy under law.
I realize that it is onerous sometimes to go through all the appropriate procedures. But, true justice is more important than what appears to be a quick fix. Ms. Lerner is justified, as an American citizen, to insist on every one of her legal rights. This is not wrong, even if we are convinced that what she approved was wrong! We need to be careful not to imply that if we do not like what someone did that they lose their legal rights. I think that there is a good chance that she will be either demoted or fired. But, I am not willing to have her demoted or fired if it means that her rights are trampled.
Let’s go through all the appropriate legal procedures. Let’s make sure that what is handed out is true justice. Let’s not give in to the temptation to deny the rights of someone simply because we are convinced that they “done wrong.” Mind you, I think that she will be found to have acted inappropriately and even illegally. But, I am willing to wait for justice in order to ensure that our rights are upheld.