On Sept. 23, Pennsylvania pro-life activist Mark Houck was arrested on federal criminal charges. The details of the alleged crime and the arrest itself remain disputed, but we know enough to make a couple of observations about our nation and the current political climate.
Houck was arrested in connection with an alleged assault on a volunteer at a Philadelphia abortion facility. Unsurprisingly, the accounts differ as to what occurred. The Department of Justice issued a press release stating that Houck twice assaulted the alleged victim because he was a volunteer at an abortion facility.
Notice that the press release describes not only the alleged action but an alleged motive. Of course, the press release had to state that the assault occurred because the alleged victim was a volunteer at an abortion facility. If that was not the motive, there would be no jurisdiction for the feds to be involved at all. We will get back to that rather questionable issue.
Houck and his family give quite a different account of the alleged assault. Apparently, the abortion facility volunteer was getting into the personal space of Houck’s 12-year-old son and saying vulgar, inappropriate things to him. This harassment by the volunteer toward a young child allegedly went on for weeks. Houck first intervened by telling the volunteer he did not have permission to speak to Houck’s minor child. When the volunteer persisted, Houck eventually shoved him away from his child. Allegedly the man fell but suffered no injuries.
Where the Federal Government’s Jurisdiction Ends
Already we have a federalism problem here. Perhaps we have become too quick to accept the existence of an elaborate regime of federal criminal law. But as we know from the Tenth Amendment, the federal government has only the limited powers enumerated in the Constitution, with any remaining powers being reserved to the states or the people. From this comes the accepted principle in our federalist republic that states have the general police power. Federal criminal statutes and prosecutions must be limited to cases where the Constitution grants enumerated powers, such as interstate activity or crimes involving foreign agents and national security.
In this case, what we have is a very uneventful assault, where one man pushed another man. Hardly the stuff of a federal crime. An assault is a run-of-the-mill crime, and it is up to states to criminalize and prosecute such routine offenses. It is only when the assault occurs in a discriminatory way — in this case, because the alleged victim works at an abortion facility — that the feds claim jurisdiction. It remains questionable whether access to abortion facilities and assaults that occur on these properties should be within the jurisdiction of federal criminal authorities at all, but that goes beyond the scope of this essay.
A recent article on the incident explains that the Justice Department relies on the section of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act that “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services.”
When you look at the statutes, they may be invoked only when a victim was attacked because he was affiliated with the abortion facility or when the attack attempts to interfere with a person’s seeking of an abortion. If Houck’s account is at all true and there was a dispute related to the volunteer speaking to the minor child, then the necessary element for these FACE Act federal charges disappears entirely.
If Mr. Houck has any evidence that he first warned the volunteer not to talk to his son, there is no way the federal government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Houck pushed the man because he was a volunteer or that he was attempting to prevent anyone from obtaining an abortion by pushing the man. If Mr. Houck pushed the volunteer because of a dispute about the child, there is simply no material for a federal crime.
‘Rifles Pointed at Mark’
Besides the dubious federal criminal charges at issue, the circumstances of the arrest signal a growing crisis in our republic. While the circumstances of the arrest still need clarification, Houck’s wife claims that when the FBI came to arrest her husband, there were 25 to 30 FBI agents present.
She goes on to describe the early-morning scene. First, her husband allegedly told the agents “Please, I’m going to open the door, but, please, my children are in the home. I have seven babies in the house.” Mrs. Houck claimed “they had big, huge rifles pointed at Mark and pointed at me and kind of pointed throughout the house . . . [t]he kids were all just screaming. It was all just very scary and traumatic.” Apparently in this exchange, Mrs. Houck claims she asked for a warrant and was told “that they were going to take him whether they had a warrant or not.” Eventually, they did produce a warrant.
From the Houck residence to Mar-a-Lago, we need to ask a very important question: why are federal law enforcement agents conducting high-profile, heavily-armed raids and arrests on people who show no sign of violence, flight risk, or non-compliance? It appears that not only did Houck do nothing to make the FBI think he would be violent or noncompliant with their investigation, but that in fact, Houck reached out to the FBI to try to learn more and resolve the situation.
A recent news update revealed that the Philadelphia criminal authorities refused to press charges, that a civil complaint by the abortion volunteer against Houck was dismissed, and that shortly thereafter Houck received a “target letter” from the Department of Justice informing him of the federal criminal investigation. Houck’s attorney attempted to contact the DOJ to discuss the situation, but received no response until a large contingent of armed FBI agents came to his door last Friday.
These cases should greatly trouble normal Americans. All the available evidence indicates that Mr. Houck was an ordinary, pro-life activist, that there was a minor altercation with an abortion volunteer, and that the altercation likely had to do with the volunteer’s constant harassing of Houck’s minor child. There were no serious injuries, and the normal state authorities (the Philadelphia police and district attorney) never pressed charges.
We should be concerned that the FBI — who should be quite busy investigating drug cartels and thwarting of major human trafficking rings — is charging Houck with a federal crime that could carry substantial jail time. We should be concerned that there is a statute that even makes such a charge possible. And we should be concerned when this pro-life family man is apprehended by a large number of federal agents with guns drawn, as his wife and several children watch in horror.
This, frankly, is not the stuff of American life, liberty, and happiness. This is what we see when an out-of-control government regime is trying to send a message of intimidation and fear to its perceived ideological enemies. There did not need to be an armed raid on the home of Mark Houck because he pushed an abortion facility volunteer who was likely harassing his son. The Biden administration should already be concerned that the FBI is suffering from a legitimacy crisis in the eyes of the American people. Such terrifying misuses of federal law enforcement only justify that legitimacy crisis.