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Republicans, Vigilante Federalism and the Surveillance State

Republicans are silently moving forward in delegating the state’s power to non-enforcement entities (individuals, churches, schools, shop owners, non-profits, and companies) to enforce state law[1],[2] laying down the foundation for the surveillance state.


Republicans portray citizen enforcement of state law as simply protecting people, usually claiming that it fills a gap where state or local resources may be limited. In reality such laws represent a new “vigilante federalism.”[3]


Vigilantism has been defined as “the extralegal prevention, investigation, or punishment of offenses” [italics added].[4] But that definition is no longer valid as “vigilante federalism” is now used as a legal means of punishment.


“Vigilante federalism” refers to the aggressive decentralization of state enforcement authority to private actors.[5] We need look no further than Texas’ abortion bounty law[6] or Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.[7]


But such laws are inherently anti-democratic because they are intended to evade judicial review, by enlisting private citizens for enforcement rather than state officials.[8]


Any law that the courts are powerless to review undermines the separation of powers to prevent barriers that keep people from getting into court.[9] Justice denied is emblematic of the Republican vigilante movement.


Ultimately “vigilante federalism” turns citizens into spies in a surveillance scheme more reminiscent of a totalitarian state.[10] One such surveillance scheme is Virginia allowing police to seek women’s menstrual histories from tracking apps.[11]


State Republicans are taking the first step that are seemingly innocuous, but they are not. They are setting the stage for vigilante laws like those enacted in Texas and Florida.


Pennsylvania Act 19 authorizes school districts to bus cameras that would capture video of those who pass a bus with flashing red light “for the purpose of [enforcement].” However, this seeming innocent law means that the school districts issue the citations for civil fines, not the state.


Pennsylvania law already prohibits individuals from collecting unemployment compensation if they do not actively seek a job or refuse a job. But SB 1109 shifts the burden for enforcement to employers.  


Under SB 1109 employers of any type from churches, small shop owners, to large corporations will become part of the “police state” by having to report those that refuse a job or undermine efforts to get a job.


With Act 19 and SB 1109 Pennsylvania Republicans are taking their first steps into the anti-democratic realm of “vigilante federalism.” The term “slippery slope” could not have greater relevance.


We stand at the precipice of upholding the rule of law and democratic principles or taking the path to the surveillance state.


Pennsylvania was at the fore at the creation of the US Constitution. These anti-democratic efforts cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.


We cannot accept the Republican policy of “vigilante federalism.”







[6]Texas Health and Safety Code Title 2, Subtitle H. Sec. 171.207.  LIMITATIONS ON PUBLIC ENFORCEMENT.  (a)  Notwithstanding Section 171.005 or any other law, the requirements of this subchapter shall be enforced exclusively through the private civil actions described in Section 171.208. [emphasis added]







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