States Rights — Petty Oppression Better Than Widespread Oppression?
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