The COVID-19 lockdowns are “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” United States Attorney General William Barr said in a speech at Hillsdale College’s Constitution Day celebration on Sept. 16 in Arlington, Virginia.
Barr’s speech focused on the rule of law and the separation of powers doctrine.
“The rule of law is the linchpin of American freedom and the critical guarantee of the rule of law comes from the Constitution’s structure of separation of powers,” Barr said. “The framers recognized that by dividing the legislative, executive, and judicial powers — each significant but each limited — they would minimize the risk of any form of tyranny.”
As head of the Department of Justice, Barr focused on the powers delegated to the executive branch of government, specifically through the lens of criminal justice. He said that as the executive branch has virtually unchecked power in bringing charges, there is potential for abuse by federal prosecutors.
“Federal prosecutors possess power that is necessary to enforce our laws and punish wrongdoing…but power that carries inherent potential for abuse,” Barr said. “Left unchecked, [prosecutorial discretion] has the power to inflict far more harm than it prevents.”
Barr continued by saying that the most basic check on this power is accountability.
“But, political accountability — politics — is what ultimately ensures our system does its work fairly and with proper recognition of the many interests and values at stake,” Barr said. “Government power completely divorced from political accountability is tyranny.”
In a Q&A session after Barr’s speech, moderated by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, the attorney general commented on hot-button issues.
Barr said Black Lives Matter as an organization “is not interested in Black lives” and instead uses Black Americans as props for their ideological agenda. Barr said caring for Black lives is about taking a holistic approach — ensuring equal protection under the law and boosting quality of life through community-based programs and education.
“Because the attorney general is ultimately politically accountable for every decision that the department makes, I and my predecessors have had an obligation to ensure that we make the correct decision,” Barr said. “We must strive for consistency, and that is yet another reason why centralized senior leadership exists to harmonize the disparate views of our many prosecutors in a consistent policy.”
WHIP student and senior Kathleen Hess said she was honored to hear from the attorney general.
“It was thrilling to hear Attorney General Barr speak because it is clear that he is comfortable in this audience and he does not have to curb his opinions,” she said.
Assistant Professor of Politics David Azerrad also said he enjoyed Barr’s speech.
“I was very impressed with Attorney General Barr’s remarks,” Azerrad said. “His intelligence shines, as does his boldness and devotion to his country and the rule of law.”
Arnn introduced Barr as a man of deep integrity and regard for the rule of law — a stalwart figure in a political climate full of chaos and violence.
“The highest kind of honor is to do right until the last day, and prepare to meet your maker,” Arnn said. “For to get back to the rule of law, it will be people, like Attorney General William Barr, that will get it back for us.”
Reporter Ben Wilson contributed to this report.