Why Municipal Courts Matter to Liberty
I am embarrassed.
I am embarrassed that I didn’t know about this problem sooner. Or I heard about it and ignored it, which is even worse. Maybe I thought it was just the usual liberal whining about trumped up racial problems. Whatever, I should have listened.
On September 2, I asked a room of about 30 tea partiers, “Do you trust our justice system?” I heard a chorus of “No.”
The question’s context was municipal courts in the St. Louis area, but especially North St. Louis County municipalities.
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I called the meeting because of emails and blog comments I received after a few posts about Ferguson and the Buycott. The most disturbing of these reports came from Lee Presser, and he let me publish his account here.
The purpose of the meeting was to check the temperature of St. Louis Tea Partiers. I wanted to see if they, like me, considered abusive municipal courts a liberty issue.
They clearly do. Many of them, anyway.
So much has been written about St. Louis County’s horrible municipal court system, I won’t go into it here. Instead, I’ll ask you to read these documents in addition to Lee Presser’s story.
** Washington Post Article: How municipalities in St. Louis County, MO, profit from poverty ** Arch City Defenders Municipal Court White Paper
Instead, I want to make a brief case on why the liberty movement should attack this issue.
Rule of Law: Libertarians don’t believe in anarchy; we believe in maximum liberty within a well-ordered, effective society. When elected and non-elected government officials abuse the law, the rule of law breaks down. How can we say we stand for the rule of law yet cast a blind eye to authoritarian abuses of the law right in our own county?
Respect for the Law: We expect citizens to respect the law–law enforcement officers, contracts, the legal system. We profess to believe that just laws are necessary to protect everyone’s rights to life, liberty, and property. But when one or more of the pieces of that legal system become abusive of the people in its jurisdiction, respect for the law naturally breaks down. People come to see the system as hypocritical, with different rules for different classes of people.
Respect for Human Beings: Libertarians believe that free, conscientious people better care for each other than a cold bureaucracy. So how can we not stand up for our fellow citizens whose lives enter a downward spiral on their first encounter with abusive municipal courts?
Unnecessary Governments: Libertarians believe in the minimum amount of government necessary to maintain order. But St. Louis County has over 90 municipalities, each with its own unique and complicated system of ordinances, fines, and courts. While these municipalities are not hierarchical, they make it almost impossible for a person to know the law as he traverses St. Louis County. Some municipalities seem to count on this confusion of laws to extract expensive fines from unwary commuters and residents.
Conditioning People for Authoritarianism: Some have said that grassroots activists are more effective working on national issues than on local ones. I understand the threat posed by an abusive Washington government, but I believe abusive local governments condition people for subservient acceptance of authoritarian rule. If the stories exposed in the WaPo article and Arch City Defenders are true, a large portion of St. Louis County residents live in fearful submission to tyrannical local governments. If we who never experienced Lee Presser’s nightmare in Bel-Ridge are fearful of Washington’s power, imagine how mighty Washington seems to those who live in fear of their own local authorities?
Local First: The same argument that we are better suited to take on Washington than local municipalities seems illogical to me. If we cannot affect change in a city of 5,000 like Pine Lawn, we’re insane to think we could affect the national government of 320 million people.
I’m sure you can think of even more reasons why the liberty movement should be involved in fighting these tyrannical municipal courts. Please share your thoughts below.