Last week, a piece of national news was so gobsmacking that for hours after the New York Times and the Washington Post published the story, other news sources just seemed dumbfounded by it.
It must be fake news, people thought. The Russians are having fun with us again.
The news: All the Supreme Court justices agreed with a ruling led by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
It looks like we may be seeing the end of rampant property seizures by state authorities — the kind we have come to expect as part of living in America.
The unanimous Supreme Court ruling favored an Indiana man who had been arrested for petty drug dealing, had done his time, paid a $1,200 fine, and yet had his $42,000 Land Rover taken from him by the justice system. A state court had called the seizure of the vehicle an excessive fine prohibited by the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.
Indiana’s Supreme Court said, “Never mind that, the 8th doesn’t apply to states, only to the federal government.”
That’s the way it’s been since I can remember.
Well, anyway, ever since the Nixon era and the War on Drugs ramped up, it’s been OK to seize property even from people only suspected of crimes, without convictions.
Picture this: 85-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg gets out of the hospital, swings into court chambers, whips out her lightsaber and the 8th Amendment becomes an incorporated right applicable to all state and local jurisdictions. Ewoks beat drums and dance.
The summary of the decision traces its argument from the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. We might soon finally have the same civil rights that were guaranteed to the English in 1689 (“excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted,” “forfeitures before conviction are illegal and void,” and things of that nature.)
It pleases me to see the conservatives on the court getting around to conserving something valuable.
Speaking of forfeitures before conviction ...
As I was learning about this ruling, it came to my attention that the 77th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 had just passed.
That was the one by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that enabled the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII.
The Supreme Court has never ruled that action to be unconstitutional. In 1944 in Korematsu v. United States, the court declined to do so. Last year, while upholding Trump’s travel ban, the Supreme Court justices said that the Korematsu ruling was bad and that the internment should have been ruled unconstitutional. But those remarks didn’t amount to a clear overturning of that decision.
It would make me happy if SCOTUS could find a way through to solidly slam the constitutionality of EO 9066 to the dirt once and for all.
Perhaps this latest ruling is a sign that could happen.
Japanese-Americans lost a lot more than Land Rovers and they weren’t dealing drugs.
A whole lot of them were dealing vegetables. The kind you eat, not the kind you smoke. And they lost their farms because of EO 9066.
Bonus material for advanced students:
Last year, I wrote about Washington State legislator Matt Shea’s fun Rules for Biblical Warfare, including, “Do not attack or kill productive citizens. They are your base of support after your enemy is defeated.”
The same Matt Shea is now leading an absurd drive to split Eastern Washington off from Western Washington and call the new state “Liberty.” He especially wants this to happen should Puerto Rico become a state.
My question in response is, ¿Qué?
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
Read the full Feb. 27 - March 5 issue.
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