First, the most significant error she makes is the assumption that “the law” was “powerless” here. The fact that “the law” is different from what you might prefer is conceptually distinct from saying it’s “powerless.” Right now, we let the Supreme Court remove several issues out of the legislative process – that’s the nature of a constitutional right. You may agree or disagree with Roe on the merits, but it’s the law. And for the record, the privacy right underlying Roe (1) extends much broader than abortion, (2) has a century of precedent behind it (beginning with Pierce and Meyer), and (3) enjoys widespread support from the public.
A better example of when the law was “powerless” is the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era South. There, you had laws and amendments on the books protecting civil rights. These established rights were widely ignored and invalidated by extralegal violence. In these types of circumstances, violence may well be morally justified. In fact, I think it is.
But that’s a completely different universe from an established, popular constitutional right that has been reaffirmed for decades by Republican-appointed Justices.
If, however, the argument is merely that “the law as it actually exists allows some great moral outrage to occur,” then it still in no way follows that extralegal violence is morally justified (as Hilzoy noted). There are lots of moral outrages the law currently allows – the death penalty, the Iraq war, the freedom to let Glenn Beck speak. The fact that these outrages exist doesn’t justify the specific tactic of violence to oppose them – particularly when the political process (which includes the Constitution and judicial appointment process) is available.
Next, McArdle brings out a slavery analogy:
That could be true, of course. But here’s the thing about that type of analogy – it justifies anything. If, for instance, people one day look at the horror of integrated schools the same way we look at slavery, then George Wallace will be a national hero. If future generations think internment camps are a great moral necessity, then Michelle Malkin will be hailed as a moral visionary.
It’s a premise that can’t really be refuted. But it’s also a dangerous premise. Because this type of argument can be used to justify anything, it is in fact used to justify anything. And as a matter of probability, the particular outrage a person subjectively picks will likely not be morally equivalent to slavery. (Or if you prefer, substitute the Holocaust for slavery).
Next, I don’t really understand the Iraq/”bitch slap” analogy – maybe it's just an example of visceral contempt of liberals spilling out. But anyway – the purpose of passing new restrictive laws against these “fringes” isn’t retribution – or a desire to prove how powerful we are. It’s to prevent political violence aimed at undermining an established constitutional right (as Hilzoy also noted).
Whether you agree with it or not, we as a country have decided to protect a woman’s right to be free from forced childbirth. Similarly, we as a country made a commitment to protect a racial minority’s civil rights. The violence we saw yesterday – just like in the “Redemption” period – is aimed quite directly at eliminating those rights. Therefore, it makes complete sense that society would take additional and more punitive steps to punish this type of behavior. (It's also the logic of hate crime laws -- the badness of the act extends beyond the violence itself).
If it were a random murder, it would be different. But it’s not.