The underlying assumption of our belief in the rule of law is that we are talking about law in the American tradition: provisions that obligate everyone equally and that are enforced dispassionately by a chief executive who takes seriously the constitutional duty to execute the laws faithfully. The rule of law is not the whim of a man who himself serially violates the laws he finds inconvenient and who, under a distortion of the “prosecutorial discretion” doctrine, gives a pass to his favored constituencies while punishing his opposition. The rule of law is the orderly foundation of our free society; when it devolves into a vexatious process by which ideologues wielding power undertake to tame those whose activities they disfavor, it is not the rule of law anymore.
The legitimacy of law and our commitment to uphold it hinge on our sense that the law and its execution are just. As John Hinderaker points out, concerns about the desert tortoise—the predicate for taking lawful action against Nevada ranchers under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—turn out to be pretextual. The ideologues who run the government only want to enforce the ESA against a disfavored class, the ranchers. If you’re a well-connected Democrat who needs similar land for a solar project, the Obama administration will not only refrain from enforcing the ESA against you; it will transport the tortoises to the ranchers’ location in order to manufacture a better pretext for using the law to harass the ranchers.