In American politics, there is the illusion that voting for the president and Congress is choosing who is going to run the country. It is not quite that simple.
The vast majority of campaigning focuses on the individual candidates for prominent offices like president, vice president, and Senate and House seats, but a substantial amount of governance is done by a different group of people: presidential appointees to administrative agencies.
The trickledown effect of these appointments is massive. These agencies make decisions that touch all of American society, affecting our schools, our cities, our churches, and many of our constitutionally protected freedoms. And in recent decades, Congress has delegated more and more of its lawmaking authority to these agencies, meaning that many of the regulations that govern society are being made not by elected officials, but by executive appointees.
This is part of what’s at stake as Americans turn out to vote on Nov. 3 (or sooner) — not just who sits in the Oval Office, but who appoints the men and women who, in turn, decide how our country runs.
To illustrate how much influence these agencies have over American life, here are just a few examples of how, in the past four years, appointed officials have made decisions that protect and promote freedom.
It may be difficult to believe, but as a policy, many government agencies have blatantly discriminated against religious organizations and individuals solely on the basis of their religious identity — even though the First Amendment prohibits just this kind of discrimination. In 2017, Alliance Defending Freedom argued in the case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer at the U.S. Supreme Court that the First Amendment says that the government cannot treat religious Americans and organizations worse than everyone else. The Supreme Court agreed, ruling 7-2 that government agencies cannot exclude religious groups or individuals simply because they are religious.
That Supreme Court decision led to government actions that protect, rather than target, religious beliefs. In response to President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty, nine different administrative agencies have proposed rules bringing their grant and funding processes into compliance with the Trinity Lutheran decision, so that faith-based organizations are no longer subject to extraneous burdens not required of secular organizations. Because of these agencies’ actions, religious Americans may no longer face discrimination, exclusion, and additional burdens when they apply for funding from these agencies.
Agency rules and guidance can protect freedom for all Americans in often-overlooked ways that substantially influence the individual ability to exercise fundamental rights. For example, the Internal Revenue Service published a rule eliminating the requirement that certain 501(c) non-profit organizations provide the names and addresses of substantial contributors, thus protecting the rights of free speech and association while minimizing the risk of harassment of Americans for simply supporting a cause or organization.
Likewise, in regulations issued earlier this year, the Department of Education safeguarded freedoms by clarifying that college students have the right to due process. This much-needed defense of basic rights comes after many students have faced grossly unjust treatment by campus officials. In fact, prior Department of Education guidance from 2011 had effectively eliminated due process for students accused of wrongdoing, resulting in widespread denial of justice.
For years, students were routinely deprived of basic rights such as the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the right to face their accuser, the right to have an attorney present at cross-examinations, access to evidence before a hearing, and impartiality from decision-makers, among other rights. Ensuring due process for students preserves justice for both accused and accusers, and holds campus officials to constitutional standards when adjudicating these situations.
The Department of Health and Human Services has done an about-face in the past several years, going from attacking and undermining the freedom of conscience for employers to protecting that freedom. Under the prior administration, HHS mandated that employers provide access to contraceptives (including those that can act as abortifacients) through their healthcare plans — no matter how deeply this violated the stated mission of the organization. This meant that pro-life organizations, churches, and even nuns were being forced to provide access to these drugs that can cause abortions. In fact, some pro-life organizations, like March for Life, are still in litigation trying to resolve the harm done by this. In the past few years, HHS has worked to revise this mandate and protect the conscience rights of organizations and companies.
The Department of Education has also been proactive in protecting female athletes, issuing a formal statement defending women’s rights to sex-specific sports, helping preserve the hard-won athletic opportunities that allow women to compete and succeed in fair competition against other biological women. This statement and other agency actions reversed guidance from the previous administration, relied on by many school districts, that had the effect of allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports.
On a different front, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released a new proposal that would uphold the rights of homeless women’s shelters to determine entry on the basis of biological sex — a rule that may seem unnecessary at first glance, but is an essential piece of defending women’s rights. The proposal came in response to efforts to force women’s shelters to allow biological males to share spaces like showers, locker rooms, and sleeping areas with women, many of whom are victims of physical and sexual abuse. The department’s proposal helps preserve women’s privacy and safety, and allows homeless shelters to receive federal funding without threat of punishment for admitting victims on the basis of biology.
As Americans vote in this election, they should keep in mind that more than the individuals at the top of the ticket are at stake. None of these issues — or these agencies — show up on the general election ballot, but that doesn’t mean that Americans have no say. The presidential election includes candidates’ likely appointees and agendas for vital executive agencies. Voters have a responsibility to consider how a particular presidential candidate would influence these agencies — which in turn will influence the life and freedom of every American.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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