Author Archives: Jason Pye

A Tenth Amendment victory?

This may be the only time that President Obama doesn’t try to undermine the sovereignty of individual states granted by the Tenth Amendment, but I’ll take it:

Drug Enforcement Administration agents this week raided four medical marijuana shops in California, contrary to President Obama’s campaign promises to stop the raids.

The White House said it expects those kinds of raids to end once Mr. Obama nominates someone to take charge of DEA, which is still run by Bush administration holdovers.

“The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws, and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

Medical use of marijuana is legal under the law in California and a dozen other states, but the federal government under President Bush, bolstered by a 2005 Supreme Court ruling, argued that federal interests trumped state law.

Unfortunately, people like Charles Lynch (his story has been covered by Reason) are facing jail time for operating legally under California state law, but against federal laws (Lynch was convicted on federal charges).

Another point to be made is that Obama actually shares common ground some of the “conservative” members of the Supreme Court who voted in favor of state sovereignty in Gonzales v. Raich. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent, “Our federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of other States to decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens.”

The Democrat is more for “state’s rights” (I don’t like that term) than his Republican predecessor. Who would of bet on that?

A not so brilliant idea

Welcome back to the New Deal:

A stimulus package may be a lifeline for the nation’s economy, but it could be a death sentence for a lot of cows.

Lawmakers are looking for ways to use the forthcoming stimulus bill to help dairy farmers, and the number one priority is to dampen milk supplies and prop up prices. Translation: reduce the nation’s dairy herd.

In case you didn’t know, during the Depression the federal government paid farmers to destroy their crops to artificially increase agriculture prices, some “10 million acres of crops and 6 million farm animals,” according to Jim Powell.

And people wonder why FDR is criticized for worsening and prolonging the Depression.

H/T: Red State

Security theater and online predators

Maybe, just maybe, lawmakers around the country, including here in Georgia, have overreacted with regards to internet predators:

The Internet may not be such a dangerous place for children after all.

A high-profile task force created by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem.

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force was charged with examining the extent of the threats children face on social networks like MySpace and Facebook, amid widespread fears that older adults were using these popular Web sites to deceive and prey on children.

Here in Georgia, legislators are taking extraordinary steps to “protect” children from online predators.

A new law that went into effect at the beginning of the year requires anyone labeled as a sex offender to turn over all online usernames and passwords:

Georgia joins a small band of states complying with guidelines in a 2006 federal law requiring authorities to track Internet addresses of sex offenders, but it is among the first to take the extra step of forcing its 16,000 offenders to turn in their passwords as well.

A federal judge ruled in September that a similar law in Utah violated the privacy rights of an offender who challenged it, though the narrow ruling applied only to one offender who had a military conviction on sex offenses but was never in Utah’s court or prison system.
State Sen. Cecil Staton, who wrote the bill, said the measure is designed to keep the Internet safe for children. Authorities could use the passwords and other information to make sure offenders aren’t stalking children online or chatting with them about off-limits topics.

Staton said although the measure may violate the privacy of sex offenders, the need to protect children “outweighs a lot of the rights of these individuals.”

“We limit where they can live, we make their information available on the Internet. To some degree, we do invade their privacy,” said Staton, a Republican from Macon. “But the feeling is, they have forfeited, to some degree, some privacy rights.”

Lawmakers are already using regulatory takings to force these individuals out of their homes, without any compensation whatsoever. I guess they shouldn’t have any privacy either, nor the presumption of innocence.

Politicians want to give the appearance of “doing something,” many times without any regard for personal rights and liberties. There is a line that a legislature cannot cross when it comes to privacy. The Fourth Amendment protects the rights of all individuals, including those who have paid their debts to society, to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Legislatures cannot continue to look the other way and cry “judicial activism” when courts strike down constitutionally questionable laws relating to sex offenders, which has happened in November of last year and as recently as last month, and could very well happen with this new law.

H/T: Reason

Is Palin a reformer and fiscal conservative?

One thing I am hearing right now is that Sarah Palin is a fiscal conservative. The Club for Growth released a statement on a potential Palin VP candidacy that praises her stance on earmarks and support for opening ANWR.

Fighting earmarks and opening ANWR are important, but they are only half the battle.

When the Alaska Creamery Board decided to close the state-owned Matanuska Maid Dairy, she objected. She couldn’t fire Creamery Board members, so she fired members of the Alaska Agriculture Board who in turn replaced Creamery Board members. The Matanuska Maid Dairy remained open, jacked up milk prices and eventually closed anyway after substantial losses. Only then did Palin believe that it should be sold to a private company. Unfortunately, the state received no bids for the diary and taxpayers were stuck with a loss.

John McCain has been critical of Barack Obama’s plan for a windfall profits tax on oil companies, correctly citing that it would hurt potential oil exploration in the United States and increase dependence on foreign oil. Criticism should be point toward Sarah Palin as well.

Palin signed a windfall profits tax into law last year that has taken $10 billion from oil companies. Part of the plan, as conservative blog Hot Air noted earlier this month, is very similar to a plan pushed by Barack Obama:

Palin’s plan looks similar in concept to Barack Obama’s plan. The state gave Alaskans $1200 checks from oil revenues as a one-time bonus to pay for increased fuel prices, a move Palin pushed. That echoes the Obama plan to send one-time rebates to taxpayers, funded by similar levies on oil companies.

However, the results in Alaska should warn the rest of the country about pursuing this policy. Already oil companies have stopped drilling on state lands, thanks to the tax burden Alaska imposes. It should be cheaper to drill and extract from these areas, but the oil companies have decided to focus their investment instead on the Gulf, where the costs and risks would normally be higher. In Alaska, the government takes 75% of the price on a barrel of oil at current prices, which gives them no incentive to work there.

Then there is ethics. She has made a name for herself as a reformer. Palin demanded answers from and openly criticized Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens when he was indicted. She was right to do so. As far as I’m concerned, Stevens is a crook for more things that what he was indicted for. It turns out that she may have ethics issues of her own.

Walt Monegan, former Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner, claims that he was pressured by Palin and individuals close to her pressured him to fire State Trooper Mike Wooten, who happens to be Palin’s former brother-in-law. Monegan was eventually fired by Palin:

Monegan said phone calls and questions from the Palin administration and the governor’s husband, Todd Palin, about trooper Mike Wooten started shortly after Monegan was hired and continued up to one or two months ago.

The governor herself also had a brief conversation with him about Wooten in February, Monegan said.

The new assertions from Monegan, who has been mostly silent on his abrupt firing July 11, conflict with what the Republican governor said earlier in the week. She said she never put pressure on the commissioner to fire her sister’s ex-husband and no one from her office had complained about Wooten. She has also said replacing Monegan with Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp had nothing to do with Wooten. She has offered little explanation for the dismissal.
Monegan said he still isn’t sure why he was fired but thought that Wooten could be part of it. “I don’t know that it’s all of it. … I worked at the pleasure of the governor,” he said.

I’m sure more will come out about Palin in the coming months. I don’t know why conservatives are jumping up and down about Palin. She doesn’t seem all that great. She may support transparent government, but that does not make someone a fiscal conservative.

Note: Jason Pye is on the staff of Libertarian Presidential nominee Bob Barr.

Remember Kelo

“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is no force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.”– John Adams

Monday is third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling Kelo v. New London. The reason I am writing about this today is because it will likely be overshadowed by the decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller case, which involves the Second Amendment. A case which is equally important to any individual who values Liberty.

Here is some background on Kelo v. New London, in case you are unfamiliar with it. The City of New London, Connecticut sought to redevelop the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in hopes of increasing the city’s tax base (“economic development”). Several property owners refused to sell to the city, including Susette Kelo, and condemnation proceedings were started by New London Development Corporation, a private body acting on behalf of the city. Ms. Kelo received her condemnation notice the day before Thanksgiving in 2000.

On June 23, 2005, the Supreme Court dealt another blow to the Bill of Rights. The majority (opinion written by Stevens, joined by Breyer, Ginsburg and Souter with Kennedy writing a concurring opinion) ruled that taking private property for economic development and to increase the tax base is a “public use.” This ruling gave local government nearly unlimited power to take private property though eminent domain and give it to a developer to increase the tax base of the city. The court considers this to be a perfectly reasonable example of the “public use” clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent, “Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not.”

Contrary to what John McCain’s recent comments on Boumediene v. Bush, Kelo has paved the way for local governments essentially steal land at an unprecedented rate. The Institute for Justice noted just one year after the Kelo decision was announced “more than 5,700 properties nationwide [had] been threatened by or taken with eminent domain for private development.” Compare that to around 10,000 instances of Kelo-style takings from 1998 to 2002.

Kelo is not the first case dealing with property rights to come before the Supreme Court. Property rights had been protected until the Progressive Era. In 1954, the court ruled in Berman v. Parker that displaced 5,012 people, nearly all were African-Americans, from their homes in a DC neighborhood.

In court’s decision, Justice William Douglas deferred power to Congress and the District of Columbia (judicial deference) and expanded the purposes where eminent domain could be used:

The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive. The values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary. It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well balanced as well as carefully patrolled. In the present case, the Congress and its authorized agencies have made determinations that take into account a wide variety of values. It is not for us to reappraise them.

By the way, this is the same court that issued the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Something that certainly cannot be disputed is how use of eminent domain impacts the poor and minorities.

Then in 1984 the Supreme Court ruled in Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff that a Hawaii law, the Land Reform Act of 1967, was an acceptable use of eminent domain. This law allowed renters to take property from their landlords. In her opinion, another example of judicial deference and the rational basis test, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:

This Court will not substitute its judgment for a legislature’s judgment as to what constitutes “public use” unless the use is palpably without reasonable foundation. Where the exercise of the eminent domain power is rationally related to a conceivable public purpose, a compensated taking is not prohibited by the Public Use Clause.
The mere fact that property taken outright by eminent domain is transferred in the first instance to private beneficiaries does not condemn that taking as having only a private purpose. Government does not itself have to use property to legitimate the taking; it is only the taking’s purpose, and not its mechanics, that must pass scrutiny under the Public Use Clause.

Rehnquist, often referred to as an Originalist, joined the majority this decision and ironically, O’Connor’s dissent in Kelo has been praised, but her opinion in Midkiff was actually cited as precedent by the majority.

Since Kelo 42 states have enacted some sort of protection for private property rights, some stronger than others. Florida easily has the strongest of any state.

I wrote commentary for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation last year about what had taken place in our state since the Kelo ruling and the need for more constitutional protections for property owners. The statutory law passed by the Georgia General Assembly was very good, but the constitutional amendment left the door wide open for future abuse. There are no actual protections for property owners in the amendment nor is the term “public use” defined. It points back to “general law,” which is set by the legislature and can be changed at anytime during a legislative session by a simple majority vote. An attempt to patch this massive hole in the amendment was defeated by two votes in the State Senate.

Needless to say, there is still much work to do in Georgia.

We need to press our elected officials at all levels of government and remind them that property is sacred. We do not spend our lives laboring to provide for ourselves and families only to have the government come and take the most sacred of our rights from us. Simply put, property rights are not subject to a majority vote.

We also must challenge progressivism and “cult of the collective.” We as individuals have natural rights that cannot be infringed upon by govternment.

“When ‘the common good’ of a society is regarded as something apart from and superior to the individual good of its members, it means that the good of *some* men takes precedence over the good of others, with those others consigned to the status of sacrificial animals.” – Ayn Rand

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