Rule of law applies, even for likes of BP

Demonstrators are scheduled to begin protesting today in cities around the country, demanding that the government seize the assets of British Petroleum to pay for the environmental and economic damage caused by the gargantuan oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

We’ve got little sympathy for BP, which managed to achieve $5.6 billion in profits during the first quarter of this year, but couldn’t spend a half million dollars for a device that might have helped halt the oil flow before it got started. It is a company that ignored several technological warnings before the Deepwater Horizons drill rig exploded, avoided preparing a comprehensive environmental evaluation of its operations in the Gulf and has repeatedly demonstrated it was ill-prepared to deal with a leak once it occurred.

The company should — and no doubt will — end up paying billions for the cleanup and other costs associated with its oil spill.

However, we do value the rule of law. Our judicial system is the appropriate place for people harmed by the BP Gulf gusher to seek compensation from the oil company.

The notion that the federal government should simply seize the assets of a foreign company to cover costs amounts to embracing the sort of action taken by Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez or any number of other autocrats who care nothing about legal impediments. It is not an action that can be undertaken by a nation that has relied for more than two centuries on laws adopted through representative government rather than the whims of dictators.

The idea of seizing BP’s assets has developed on several fronts. One is a website called “Seize BP” that was organized last month by the ANSWER Coalition, a far-left activist group. It is through that website that the week-long series of demonstrations, slated to begin today, was organized.

A separate petition urging the U.S. and British governments to seize BP’s assets has been circulated through Facebook. It says, among other things, “BP by order of the people of this planet should handover everything they own to cure the disaster they have caused.”

The judicial process is, of course, often messy and time-consuming. It will, in all likelihood, be years before a final denouement is reached in either criminal or civil cases against BP.

But the fact that it may take a long time to complete the case doesn’t mean that BP should be stripped of its protection under our legal system or that our government should act to confiscate the assets of a private entity without that action being subject to due process through the judicial system.

All U.S. citizens should be appalled, even furious, about what has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico over the past six weeks. But we shouldn’t be willing to abandon our laws and judicial review to punish those responsible.


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