And Some People Wonder Why Government Can’t Be Trusted

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 3, 2011

I can’t believe that this example of governmental arrogance is an isolated one, or that it is confined to the city level:

A dialectic of judicial deference and political arrogance is on display in St. Louis. When excessively deferential courts permit governmental arrogance, additional arrogance results as government explores the limits of judicial deference. As Jim Roos knows.

He formed a nonprofit housing and community development corporation that provides residences for people with low incomes. Several times its properties have been seized by the city government, using “blight” as an excuse for transferring property to developers who can pay more taxes to the seizing government.

The Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision legitimized this. It permits governments to cite “blight” — a notoriously elastic concept, sometimes denoting nothing more than chipped paint or cracked sidewalks — to justify seizing property for the “public use” of enriching those governments.

Roos responded by painting on the side of one of his buildings a large mural — a slash through a red circle containing the words “End Eminent Domain Abuse.” The government that had provoked him declared his sign “illegal” and demanded that he seek a permit for it. He did. Then the government denied the permit.

[. . .]

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm defending Roos, notes that signs may be the oldest form of mass communication — Gutenberg made advertising posters — and they remain an inexpensive means of communicating with fellow citizens. St. Louis says that it regulates signs for “aesthetic” reasons and to promote traffic safety, but it admits that it has no guidelines for the bureaucrats exercising aesthetic discretion and no empirical evidence connecting signs with traffic risks. And why would Roos’s mural be less aesthetic and more distracting to drivers than, say, a sign — exempted from any permit requirement — urging the election of the kind of city officials who enjoy censoring Roos?

St. Louis is not the problem; government is. Many people go into it because they enjoy bossing people around. Surely this is why a court had to overturn a decision by the government of Glendale, Ohio, when it threatened a man with fines and jail because he put a “for sale” sign in his car parked in front of his house. The city said that people might be distracted by the sign and walk into traffic.

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