On Resisting ICE and 'Civil Disobedience'

By Dan Cadman on March 19, 2020

The Washington Times recently published an article carrying this headline: "Philadelphia Bar Association tells lawyers, judges to resist ICE arrests". In the first paragraph it goes on to say:

The head of the Philadelphia Bar Association on Monday compared ICE to a "police state" and called on lawyers, judges and other courthouse personnel to resist the agency when its officers attempt to make arrests at city courthouses.

This outlandish position is of a piece with that we see in many places today, including, distressingly, among judges, prosecutors, and political leaders. Consider, for instance, the Massachusetts judge who found herself in trouble for ensuring that an alien criminal escaped ICE arrest by directing a court bailiff to escort him through back corridors, secure areas, and out of the courthouse.

Consider, also, the mayor of Oakland, who did not find herself in trouble (though she should have) for tipping off the public about impending ICE enforcement actions, which almost certainly leaked their way from the police department into city hall because ICE had given the Oakland police the courtesy of advance notice, for reasons of officer safety and deconfliction.

Politicians and lawyers' groups aren't the only ones where attitudes have done a 180-degree turn. This has happened in other arenas as well, such as national environmental groups, which once upon a time opposed mass immigration because they understood that it has a huge adverse ecological impact on the country. Instead they now spend serious amounts of time and money filing lawsuits and arguing in court over whether building border walls will disturb wildlife.

But this recent "resist" tenor is particularly disturbing when we are speaking of individuals whose professional lives are supposed to be devoted to upholding the law. Once upon a time, bar association members took their collective responsibilities as "officers of the court" seriously, and could be clearly distinguished from their lesser, competing colleagues in the National Lawyers Guild, a reliably leftist group whose position on anything was bound to be extreme. Not so any more, and I'm not sure when the hostile takeover was completed.

It's had me thinking quite a bit about Mahatma Gandhi, the father of both the theory and practice of civil disobedience. Most of the illustrations we see in the news today suggest to me a kind of moral cowardice at play, because everyone wants to "resist" but no one wants to pay the requisite price. They scramble with excuses for flouting the law, or mask them in grandiose pronouncements.

Gandhi, a wise man, knew better. He understood that to engage in disobedience without acceptance of the penalty simply sabotages all laws, and leads to a degradation of civilized society. Here are two of Gandhi's observations on the matter:

The only safe and honorable course for a self-respecting man is to do what I have decided to do, that is, to submit without protest to the penalty of disobedience ... not for want of respect for lawful authority, but in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience.


The privilege of resisting or disobeying a particular law or order accrues only to him who gives willing and unswerving obedience to the laws laid down for him.

I personally cannot see how a nation's immigration laws can inherently be unjust, since they are a foundation of the very sovereignty that ensures existence of the nation to begin with. That is why immigration laws are universal; every nation-state has them, and an unbiased global survey would reveal that they are, for the most part, surprisingly universal in character.

What I do know for a certainty is this: If all of these poseurs were as morally certain of their standing as Gandhi was of his, they would undertake their actions accompanied by public statements acknowledging that they are deliberately engaged in unlawful conduct to obstruct federal agents in the performance of their duties, and assert their willingness to accept the consequences.

Has anyone seen that happen to date? I haven't.