Is a Blacklist Back?

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


Is a blacklist back in fashion in the town that made term “blacklist” famous? One gets that feeling when the Los Angeles City Council voted this week to draft a law that will ask contractors to disclose if they have been hired to work on the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. What could be the reason for the disclosure except to cut off business to a company because of political motives?

Politics were behind the famous Hollywood blacklist of seven decades ago.

While the bill reportedly won’t ban contractors from working with the city if the contractor works on the wall, the disclosure plays a de facto role in creating a ban. The bill’s author, Councilman Gil Cedillo, said he plans to vote against any firm seeking a city contract that discloses work on the wall.

A similar idea could take hold statewide if Sen. Ricardo Lara’s SB 30 becomes law. The measure has passed the senate but the author pulled it from a scheduled assembly committee hearing last month. The bill would ban the state from contracting with any company that provides goods or services to the federal government for a federally funded border wall.

Criticizing these moves by local and state governments is not an endorsement of the proposed wall or the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. It is a cry of concern that a precedent will be set allowing government to ban businesses from work and jobs because businesses don’t fall in line with the dominant thinking of a governing body.

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce president Gary Toebben, reacting to the council vote, issued the following statement: “The Chamber has not formally addressed this issue, but personally I believe that using a subjective litmus test like this to judge contractors is bad precedent.  There is no end to the number of legal business or personal relationships that contractors could potentially be asked about or judged on that have nothing to do with the quality of their work for the City of Los Angeles.”

Lara’s state bill has been opposed by a number of business groups including the California Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business and a number of contractor associations.

Government has no problem arguing that establishments cannot discriminate and must do business with all consumers. But, then officials want to turn around and tell a business that government can discriminate and refuse to do business because elected officials don’t like whom the businesses are working with.

The politics behind the bills are made clear by the exemption offered in the Lara bill for any company that provided services to border barriers prior to December 31, 2017. Whatever border walls or fences were built prior to Trump’s proposed barrier are okay and businesses shouldn’t be punished for doing that work, the bill asserts. A blacklist would be put in place only for companies that work on the wall that Trump proposed.

In reality, the issue goes deeper than the debate over immigration and the wall or over the loss of business and jobs, even though it is given that those subjects are not inconsequential matters. California politicians have certainly made their position clear on the administration and its policies.

However, there is a sense we are losing clear definition of a guiding principle that we must have “a government of laws, not of men,” as John Adams put it. When a city council offers financial and legal assistance to individuals who have circumvented the law, but that same government wants to deny a legitimate business from getting a contract because that business worked on a legal project, the idea of a government of laws becomes hazy.

That is why there is a deeper concern for the proposed actions affecting businesses. If a law is questionable, change the law. Don’t punish those who are following the law.

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