Kristi Burton Brown Keeps Using That Word

Responding to the announcement last Friday of a sweeping new mandate from the Biden administration requiring millions of American workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Colorado Republican Party chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown fired back a volley of pointed if not exactly coherent words in opposition–including the one key word that gets thrown around so often in politics, by persons who know what the word means and those who do not–to CBS4’s Rick Sallinger.

The word in question is “unconstitutional.”

“I mean it’s absolutely unconstitutional. Joe Biden does not have the power to tell private business owners what to do with their employees,” she said.

As we discussed last Thursday ahead of the vaccine mandate’s formal announcement, it wasn’t that long ago when even most Republicans were uncontroversially in support of requiring vaccines for a range of childhood diseases. As recently as 2015 both Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman saw no political risk in endorsing mandatory vaccination for school-age children. As for the constitutionality of vaccine mandates?

Colorado GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown.

In a timely in-depth story last week, Politico explains how The U.S. Supreme Court decided that question 115 years ago in the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts:

The year was 1904, and when [Rev. Henning Jacobson’s] politically charged legal challenge to the $5 fine for failing to get vaccinated made its way to the Supreme Court, the justices had a surprise for Rev. Jacobson. One man’s liberty, they declared in a 7-2 ruling handed down the following February, cannot deprive his neighbors of their own liberty — in this case by allowing the spread of disease. Jacobson, they ruled, must abide by the order of the Cambridge board of health or pay the penalty.

“There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good,” read the majority opinion. “On any other basis, organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy.”

And that wasn’t the last ruling upholding the constitutionality of vaccine mandates:

In 1922, the Supreme Court further clarified in Zucht vs. King that a school system could refuse admission to a student not meeting vaccination requirements, and that this would not be in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause for singling out a particular class of individuals, the National Constitution Center says on its website Constitution Daily.

Then, in 1944, in Prince vs. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court held that states may require vaccination regardless of a parent’s religious objection, making it clear that religious exemptions offered by states are elective, rather than mandated by the First Amendment, the Constitution Daily explains.

In short, there are words you can use to describe a vaccine mandate. “Unconstitutional” isn’t one. It’s not just factually wrong, it’s tragically ignorant of modern American history.

For generations of Americans in the 20th Century, vaccine mandates to attend school from preschool to university, not to mention as necessary to travel or to work in high-risk professions, were part of everyday life. The eradication of once-devastating epidemics of diseases like polio and smallpox taught a lesson to those generations that they never forgot, but relentless misinformation has chipped away at was once nearly universal consensus in recent years. The partisan politicization of the latter-day anti-vaxxer movement is a phenomenon we have witnessed here in Colorado over the last several years very clearly as local Republicans openly courted anti-vaxxer activists, and that embrace transitioned smoothly into the partisan political resistance to COVID-19 prevention measures.

The consequences of the partisan political backlash against what used to be one of the country’s greatest strengths, the ability to work together to overcome deadly diseases, are far-reaching. But to call what used to be considered our patriotic duty as Americans “unconstitutional” shows how far the reasoning that drives Republican rhetoric has degenerated.

This is the hubris that makes great nations weaker.

14 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. unnamed says:

    I get the impression Chairwoman Burton Brown doesn't know the meaning to a lot of words.

  2. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    Chairwoman Burton-Brown's attitude and lack of knowledge is further proof of the continuing decline of the Republican party as a meaningful force in Colorado politics.

  3. JohnInDenver says:

    Standard Republican position appears to be that the President cannot impose public health standards.  It's a states rights thing — Presidents can advise on policy, can have the CDC track information from facilities that take federal money, and can pay for health measures, but not set the vaccine or public health's mask requirements. Presidents can set up limited quarantines or bar travel from places with outbreaks.  Presidents can't do more unless Congress votes for it, too — and we know Congres has not passed legislation authorizing spending for a coherent program.

    In the real world, I've not read of the Supreme Court ruling on the President's power.  But Republicans are willing to repeat what some of their advisors say about Constitutionality. 

    • bullshit! says:

      Good arguments re: this from Vox:

      But just because the Constitution permits the government to require vaccines does not necessarily mean that the Labor Department may, as Biden says it will, issue a binding rule requiring large employers to encourage vaccination. The Labor Department may only act pursuant to an act of Congress. So unless Congress passes a new law, the department must rely on an existing statute if it wishes to regulate employers.

      There is a strong argument, however, that the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH) permits the Labor Department to act. Among other things, that law permits the secretary of labor to issue an “emergency temporary standard” regarding workplace health or safety if they determine that “employees are exposed to grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful,” and that such a standard is “necessary to protect employees from such danger.”

  4. MichaelBowman says:

    This really isn't a non-sequitur.  It's yet another example of the utter lack of leadership amongst the Republican inner-circle and how they've managed, in addition to thwarting a quick end to the pandemic, to also forestall the issues of climate mitigation and the opportunities for rural communities to fully participate in a 21st-century energy system.  Yes, there is a War on Rural Colorado.  No, the assailants aren't who they'd like us to believe they are. 

    Energy showdown: Member co-op blasts “Hotel California” contracts with regional power provider

    Brighton-based United Power, which serves about 300,000 people along Colorado’s bustling Front Range, is Tri-State’s largest member in its four-state territory. United Power is also one of Tri-State’s most vocal critics. It has filed a lawsuit as well as complaints with state and federal regulators. It is challenging proposed fees for canceling contracts with Tri-State.

    Despite the conflicts, United Power CEO and President Mark Gabriel said members need a strong Tri-State as regional power markets become more open and the move to more renewable energy continues. Gabriel, an industry veteran who took the helm at United Power in February, said it’s important to be open about what’s going on between the cooperative and Tri-State.

    “These are both societal and industry changes that impact everyone,” Gabriel said.

  5. harrydoby says:

    Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy.”

    Sounds like this is the sole raison d'etre of today's GOP

  6. Genghis says:

    There's research supporting the idea that the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a Western phenomenon, and perhaps an entirely American one. Dumbshit internet lolyers like ol' Kristi provide anecdotal evidence for those hypotheses.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      I offer as Exhibit 'A': on primetime cable tonight, Tucker Carlson discussed Nicki Minaj’s vaccinated cousin’s swollen testicles live on air.

      Is it too much to hope that we're in the final swirl of the flushing toilet?



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