One Man With Courage Makes a Majority

“One man with courage makes a majority,” penned Thomas Jefferson. When that courage is armed with principle and backed by constitutional precepts, it’s formidable. Such was the case this week when Kentucky’s Junior Senator, Rand Paul, took to the floor of the senate in a one-man filibuster, reminiscent of the 1939 “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Unlike his counterpart in the classic Frank Capra film, however, Paul’s filibuster was over constitutional principles, and citizen rights.. The issue for him was whether the President of the United States was presumed to have power to supercede the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments to the Constitution by killing American citizens, on American soil, with unmanned aerial devices (UAV), or drones.

The setting was the confirmation of John Brennan as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan refused to answer Paul’s question during the Senate sub-committee confirmation hearing regarding the use of drones to attack American citizens domestically.  Senator Paul was appalled at the idea that the administration would even consider using drones domestically without a citizen ever having been charged with a crime in a court of law.

An American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) lawyer, Nate Wessler, validated Paul’s premise in an interview this week, when he referred to the administration as, “Judge, jury, and executioner,” if they used drones domestically.

Drones have been used to kill Americans on foreign soil. In 2011 a drone strike targeted, and killed, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Islamic cleric born and educated in the United States.

Since Brennan refused to answer the question, Paul sought clarification from Attorney General Eric Holder. In a March 4 letter to Paul, Holder superciliously said the Obama administration believes it could “hypothetically” carry out drone strikes against Americans on U.S. soil, but “has no intention of doing so.” Such a response was hardly comforting.

Holder declared, “The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

That Holder would declare the issue to be “entirely hypothetical,” leads one to believe he’s not at all familiar with how the technology has been, and is being used by the administration. And that he would merely “suppose” that “it is possible,” clearly indicates not much thought had been applied to the issue, a sobering admission from the government’s top attorney.

Senator Paul said, beginning his thirteen hour filibuster, “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination. It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country.”

That such could be possible, and not merely hypothetical, should be self-evident. Drones are increasingly utilized domestically for research purposes, as well as for regulatory compliance enforcement by the government.

We extend citizen’s rights to expatriates, regardless of where they are globally. Yet after the administration’s 2011 targeting of al-Awlaki with a drone attack, the next logical question is whether it matters where such a target happens to be. This all seems duplicitous on the part of the administration, when our own citizens are not afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, while simultaneously extending citizen’s rights to non-American enemy combatants.

Just this week, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the al-Qaida spokesman, fundraiser and son-in-law to Osama bin Laden, who is not an American citizen, was afforded citizen’s rights denied to al-Awlaki, as he made an appearance in court just blocks from ground zero in New York City.

Holder finally sent Paul the answer he was looking for. “No,” was Holder’s ultimate response, which finally brought the Senator’s filibuster to a close. This was not just a victory for Paul, to finally get the definitive answer he sought, but also a victory for all of us. Especially since it was a mere six weeks ago that Holder’s boss took an oath to protect and defend our Constitution, that inconvenient founding document that this administration seems to have such a difficult time upholding.

Senator Paul’s one-man crusade for the rights of American citizens, regardless of station, status, creed, color, or party affiliation, was a victory of principle over political expediency, and essentially validated Thomas Jefferson’s aphorism. One man with courage may not a majority make, but armed with truth and principle, can have the same effect.

AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board.  He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Richard, although I agree with your assessment, I admit that the Jefferson quote or “Mr Simith” were noteworthy, the outstanding strong word is “ONE”. Throughout you illustrated how ONE man can make a difference. Even if ONE man is Holder or Sulaima Abu Ghaith….both negative, yet, each ONE is capable of provoking a reaction…ONE man, Rand Paul, while his motives may be questioned, had the courage to stand before ouor Nation, striped of armor & knowing the quiver of his opponents were full & bows were drawn. He (ONE man) ‘held off’ the confirmation long enough for others to extract the guarntee for ‘we the people’ with reference to the drones….I was, again, reminded of the little Dutch boy that stuck his finger in the hole, slowing the flow until the villagers could repair the dike & save the town….If a town can be saved, do motives really matter? If the number of ONES doesn’t grow, there may not even be a 2016 election..This should serve as proof positive ONE person can make a difference & everyONE of us should double check to make sure we, also are included in our own communities. Thanks Richard…

  • Paul asked whether “the President has the power to use lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”

    Holder responded first that the U.S. has not conducted drone strikes in the U.S. and has no intention of doing so and, further, the President rejects the use of military force where law enforcement authorities in the country provide the best means of incapacitating a terrorist threat. He next noted that Paul’s question thus is “entirely hypothetical [and] unlikely to occur” and responded: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the [U.S] for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the [U.S.]”

    Duh! The Civil War is a case in point.

    Yet Paul grandstands, during which he concedes Holder’s point and suggests that is not the question he had in mind: “Nobody questions if planes are flying towards the Twin Towers whether they can be repulsed by the military. Nobody questions whether a terrorist with a rocket launcher or a grenade launcher is attacking us, whether they can be repelled.”

    Holder then responded: “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”

    Again, duh! And, so it seems, Paul and Holder agree–on both his general and specific questions.

    Yet Paul grandstands some more–to what end, other than grandstanding for his own political sake, is not clear. In that, given the tenor of some comments, he appears to have been quite successful. Bully show!