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No Moral Standing

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There is a principle in the law that requires a person to have “standing” as a prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit in court. The law requires the plaintiff to have a direct interest in the outcome of the case or show he has been directly affected by some government action in order to have the requisite standing to bring the case. Otherwise, the court will dismiss his case for lack of standing.

This principle regarding standing can actually be applied in other areas of life. For example, consider a principle that we might call “moral standing.” There are instances in which we might argue that a person lacks “moral standing” to lecture another person on some particular aspect of life.

Consider, say, a thief. We might say that he lacks moral standing to lecture other people on how wrong it is to steal from people.

Or consider this real-life example involving the U.S. government, as described in this article from the Washington Post.

The U.S. government recently refused visas to some 60 Russian officials to protest Russia’s failure to adequately investigate and prosecute people connected to the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistle-blowing lawyer.

Additionally, just recently Michael H. Posner, U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor spent six days in Russia meeting with human-rights advocates and offering U.S. support for their efforts.

Even though there is a distinct possibility that Magnitsky was killed by government officials and even though Russia is still notorious for human-rights abuses, the problem is that the U.S. government lacks moral standing to make the point, as a Russian foreign minister pointedly observed with the following statement:

Such moralizing calls appear especially cynical against the background of the practical legalization of torture in U.S. special prisons, kidnappings and mistreatment of terrorism suspects, the indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo, uninvestigated murders of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, everything the Russian foreign minister says is true. He might have also added the torture partnerships entered into between the U.S. government and U.S.-supported dictatorships in the Middle East, including Egypt (with Mubarak), Libya (with Gaddafi), and Syria (with Assad). And the U.S. assassination program, which targets both foreigners and Americans. And a kangaroo military justice system that purports to mete out justice.

It’s all a sad reminder of what U.S. foreign policy, militarism, and the war on terrorism have done to our country. To supposedly keep us safe from the terrorists that U.S. foreign policy has produced, the U.S. government has embraced practices that we would have expected from, say, communists in the Soviet Union.

Thus, the U.S. government’s human-rights lectures fall on deaf ears. Why should people listen to a regime lecture on human rights when it is engaged in assassination, kidnapping, indefinite detention, kangaroo tribunals, torture, torture partnerships with dictators, and immunity for non-judicial executioners of prisoners?

Alas, the U.S. government’s moral case against Russia for human-rights abuses must be dismissed, for lack of moral standing.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.