Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“If you want to find utopia, take a sharp right on money and a sharp left on sex and it's straight ahead.”     Penn Jillette

May 29, 2008

States Rights — Petty Oppression Better Than Widespread Oppression?

by Brad Warbiany

I’ve long said that I only support democracy so much as democracy improves individual rights. Likewise, I only support federalism and states rights so much as they improve individual rights. Federalism is a means, and liberty is an end.

And as this story shows, local government doesn’t always lead to more libertarian ends than we get from Washington:

BLACK JACK, MO (AP)
Another unmarried couple is being told by a suburban St. Louis town they’re not welcome.

A man, his girlfriend and her three children recently bought a house in Black Jack in north St. Louis County. But because Toi Pruitt and Joe Pulliam and the children don’t meet the town’s definition of a family, they couldn’t get an occupancy permit.

In 2006, Black Jack revised its definition of a family after initially refusing a permit for Fondray Loving, Olivia Shelltrack and their children. That family had filed a federal lawsuit.

The new ordinance allows unmarried couples as long as the children are related to both. None of the children are related to Pulliam.

The city attorney says he’s willing to fight for the ordinance in court.

To be fair, there are advantages to local power. It’s far easier to oust politicians on a local level, and it’s far easier to leave a locality that doesn’t respect your rights when it’s a city-sized rather than a nation-sized geographical area.

But it can often be harder to change laws like this in local areas, for two reasons. First, these types of infringements occur every day, and often go unnoticed by the media and even fellow townspeople. Because these issues don’t reach a level where the general public is aware, they don’t have the incentive to change the law. Second, simple bigotry may account for a town that democratically prefers to infringe upon the rights of unmarried couples to buy and occupy property. In that case, even if the majority of the town understands that a situation like this is occurring, they may not care.

Remember, “states rights” is but one tactic, that can sometimes lead to greater liberty when it is used in opposition to federal government infringement of rights. But it’s a double-edged sword. Your local government can infringe upon your rights and damage your life just as thoroughly as the federal government can, and it’s just as wrong. Liberty is the end, and we should not lose sight of this goal in our search for tactics that may improve it.

Hat Tip: Radley Balko

TrackBack URI: http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2008/05/29/states-rights-petty-oppression-better-than-widespread-oppression/trackback/
Read more posts from
• • •

20 Comments

  1. two of the most important differences between local and Federal oppression is that local oppression comes with neither a multi-trillion dollar price tag nor a change resistant infrastructure. also, local oppression is far more easily identifiable and open to attack, while Federal oppression campaigns are designed to be nebulous, incremental, and overweight with inertia to make it impossible for you to do anything about.

    Comment by oilnwater — May 29, 2008 @ 10:41 pm
  2. Oilnwater’s right. While you’ll tend to see more blatant abuses at the local level they’re a lot easier to address than they are higher up. And if you can’t fix them, it’s a hell of a lot easier to move to a different city than it is to move to a different country. That’s why local government is preferable…although there certainly are instances where I believe the feds and courts would have a duty to intervene. Based on the feedback on The Agitator, I’d say that Black Jack, MO may be one of those instances.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 30, 2008 @ 6:27 am
  3. I’ve only ever lived in apartments so far in my life. What’s an occupancy permit? I thought if you bought a house then you just paid the former owner and received the deed to the property in your name. Do you really need the permition of the state to buy and own a house? How are people not outraged by such a thing?

    Comment by Ben — May 30, 2008 @ 8:06 am
  4. oil & UC,

    I disagree. I think you’re missing one of the problems with this sort of infringement of rights. This sort (and other sorts) of crap goes on all over the country every day, and often doesn’t get corrected because of a lack of media coverage or an unsympathetic local electorate.

    While I agree that in many cases local control is preferred to federal control, for the reasons you state, I want to make it clear that it’s not an end in itself. We shouldn’t be arguing over whether local or federal oppression is better, we should be fighting against that oppression wherever it exists.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — May 30, 2008 @ 8:12 am
  5. Most people fear their neighbors doing something that reduces their enjoyment of their property. Thus the established residents seek some form of veto power over their neighbors activities. They all believe that the veto will never be used against them but on the other guy.

    Comment by tarran — May 30, 2008 @ 8:13 am
  6. I beg to differ on the price tag of local oppression- I pay almost as much in state and local taxes as I do in federal taxes- there isn’t a single state/ local government that has a multi-trillion dollar price tag, but all of them added together do rival the federal budget.

    I prefer local government, but let’s not pretend that it costs much less than the federal government.

    Comment by Scooby — May 30, 2008 @ 8:14 am
  7. Ben,

    In this case, it’s a local statute giving the government authority over your property. I made a comment on the Agitator where this came up; I’ve got a friend who’s familiar with Black Jack and he says it’s an overwhelmingly Baptist community, so the residents of the town are basically using the laws to enforce their personal beliefs. One of the other commenters on Balko’s site noted that he worked there for awhile and he believes that there’s a definite element of racism at play here as well (it appears that the people getting hurt by it are also ethnic minorities in that area). If that’s the case, then probably the reason that the community’s not up in arms is that the law is being arbitrarily applied to people that most in the community would consider “undesirable” and it just hasn’t pissed off enough of the people in the majority to make them want to change it.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 30, 2008 @ 8:16 am
  8. So Brad,

    You’re saying that we shouldn’t be fighting each other, but against our common enemy, the Judean People’s Front?

    Comment by tarran — May 30, 2008 @ 8:17 am
  9. Scooby,

    I agree that state government can be just as repressive as federal…I’m just saying that you have more options for dealing with oppressive state governments than you do with the feds.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 30, 2008 @ 8:17 am
  10. tarran,

    You’re saying that we shouldn’t be fighting each other, but against our common enemy, the Judean People’s Front?

    Piss off…it’s the People’s Front of Judea that we’ve got to worry about.

    Splitter.

    :)

    Comment by UCrawford — May 30, 2008 @ 8:19 am
  11. Brad,

    I think you’re missing one of the problems with this sort of infringement of rights. This sort (and other sorts) of crap goes on all over the country every day, and often doesn’t get corrected because of a lack of media coverage or an unsympathetic local electorate.

    I’m not missing it…I’m saying that just because the issue isn’t being dealt with nationally doesn’t mean that the people involved don’t have any recourse. When looking at a small town like that, moving is the most simple solution (you’re as likely to find a good job somewhere else as you will in any small town). Suing the city is another (most of them can’t afford to deal with a big lawsuit). Bringing up the issue to the national organization of whatever sect of Baptists are running the town is yet another (most national organizations don’t like going on record as supporting discrimination and have some sway over local congregations). It’s arrogant to assume that no problems can get fixed unless uninvolved people happen to notice them, or unless government somehow steps in to correct it.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 30, 2008 @ 8:28 am
  12. Yeah, I thought we are the Judean People’s Front!

    PS – Thanks a lot, guys. You’ve just made The Liberty Papers officially part of the evil Zionist conspiracy. Go to your rooms and think about what you’ve done!

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — May 30, 2008 @ 8:29 am
  13. It’s arrogant to assume that no problems can get fixed unless uninvolved people happen to notice them, or unless government somehow steps in to correct it.

    That’s not my assumption. Problems can be fixed any time the people of that town want them to be fixed. Whether that’s through the rest of the country laughing at their backwardness through the media, or through national organizations putting the brakes on local constituencies that are giving them a bad name, or simply the realization by those townspeople that they’re wrong. But that doesn’t change the fact that what they’re doing is bad, and that in many cases like this, things like the 14th Amendment– a central-government protection– might actually help these people if they wanted to fight it that high up the chain.

    My point is that, while local control is often preferable to federal, it doesn’t mean that local control is just.

    Demanding “states rights” and local control may be a step on the road to a more free society, but it is a means towards freedom, it does not ensure freedom by itself. The only way to ensure freedom is to fight against government infringement of our rights vigilantly on all levels.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — May 30, 2008 @ 8:39 am
  14. Brad,

    My point is that, while local control is often preferable to federal, it doesn’t mean that local control is just.

    Not to get into a whole anarchy v. minarchy thing here, but any time you have a government you’re going to have some injustice occur. That’s just the nature of the beast.

    Is local control better than federal control? In some ways yes, in some ways no…there are obviously tradeoffs. But when bad things happen with government at the local level, then there are fewer people affected and they have more options for dealing with it than they would if this stuff happened higher up. And that is why local control is preferable.

    That said, if it turns out that the government of Black Jack is using this law to violate peoples’ 1st and 14th Amendment rights, I wouldn’t have a problem with the state or feds stepping in and putting a stop to it. I believe that the Bill of Rights trumps local prerogative.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 30, 2008 @ 9:01 am
  15. Brad,

    Yeah, I thought we are the Judean People’s Front!

    No…they’re sitting over there.

    SPLITTERS!!!

    Comment by UCrawford — May 30, 2008 @ 9:03 am
  16. you’re assuming that every single state, county, and municipality is an austere police/totalitarian organization in dire need of revolution. i’m sure many are. but not all of them. either way, a liberty oriented Federal executive branch would influence the mentality all the way down to local level. not that a johnny-come-lately like Barr is going to acheive that, but once the Federal becomes insolvent and/or oppressive enough with its demands, the pendulum could possibly foment revolution.

    as for your specific outrage at the county level, what can you say? if citizens aren’t dedicated enough to raise enough Hell, then you’ll have to live with it. other than that, this post can’t do much beyond sounding the clarion call in general for the entire population to raise Hell starting at their local level. i don’t see this doing much, because America’s population is far lesser than the population of 1776, in intellect, in principle, in morals (yes i said morals, wahwah), in civics, and in courage.

    you’re going to have to sit back and watch capitulation like this happen over and over and over as the coming years pass. and i guarantee that you see the acceleration of totalitarian laws and aquiescing of the population as this nation not only gets poorer, but also is forced to pay for its Communism directly, as opposed to the past where a lot of the cost of our Communism was passed onto foreign markets in the form of national debt financing.

    maybe if some of you kept this in mind, you wouldn’t waste your time and your chance to actually support liberty the first time it passes around, like Ron Paul. but i know in my heart that the same people will fall in love with trivial matters and divisiveness designed exactly for the purpose, and instead end up choosing to accept a much less inspiring person to crown as legitimate. i honestly expect nothing more from most of you. now or in the future. 2007-2008 really educated me about “people.” this is the last time i spend so much time being into politics; from now on i’m spending my time strengthening my own position.

    Comment by oilnwater — May 30, 2008 @ 10:26 pm
  17. interesting point of view on the timing of an actual revolution, provided the population isn’t serfed enough to pre-emptively quell one:

    http://www.goldseek.com/tools/print.php

    Comment by oilnwater — May 30, 2008 @ 11:54 pm
  18. ^^^ scratch that, this is it.

    http://news.goldseek.com/ClifDroke/1212159600.php

    Comment by oilnwater — May 30, 2008 @ 11:56 pm
  19. oilnwater,

    maybe if some of you kept this in mind, you wouldn’t waste your time and your chance to actually support liberty the first time it passes around, like Ron Paul.

    Dude…let it go.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 31, 2008 @ 7:32 am
  20. i have let it go, and many other things regarding expections. was only making an observation. enjoy Barr. oilnwater out.

    Comment by oilnwater — May 31, 2008 @ 10:05 pm

Comments RSS

Subscribe without commenting

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by: WordPress • Template by: Eric • Banner #1, #3, #4 by Stephen Macklin • Banner #2 by Mark RaynerXML