There is a little town in West Texas that had a ridiculous speed limit: 25 miles per hour. A two stop light town complete with Dairy Queen, it is but a blip on the 65 mile-per-hour highway. Needless to say, the local sheriff department makes quite a tidy sum from travelers along the highway. Often the foreign criminals would protest that they were just keeping up with local traffic. And it was true, locals would travel the highway at 45 or 55 miles per hour and were rarely if ever pulled over. In fact, when someone looked at the traffic records for this burg and found that more than 95% of traffic violations were issued to non-residents. But, frankly, the speed limit wasn’t set to catch them. The law’s sole intention was to make money off those passing through.
The above little tale is complete fiction, a parable if you will. But I bet you got a little ticked about it. Nobody likes a speed traps, but when laws that are also arbitrarily enforced, it’s even more galling. The idea that some special class — in this case local residents — don’t have to obey the law while others are singled out for extra enforcement is the very definition of injustice.
Using the law to benefit one group or harm others has a long history. Literacy tests were used to suppress the vote of “undesirable” populations. Mostly associated with Jim Crow laws, the first literacy tests were actually passed in Connecticut and Massachusetts and aimed at Irish-Catholic voters. Of course, that’s basically what the burgeoning IRS scandal is about: using the law to discourage one group — in this case conservatives — from fully participating in the civic square. But this targeting and arbitrary enforcement doesn’t end there.
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The Environmental Protection Agency imposes fees for fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests. Those fees are usually waived for news outlets and watchdog organizations. The Competitive Enterprise Institute found that they were waived 92% of the time for “green” groups, but required them 93% of the time from conservative groups. Fees for Freedom of Information Act are supposed to be waived when it is “likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.” Basically, they should be waived for watchdog groups and press.
But since the CEI wasn’t published nice things about the EPA, well they obviously weren’t doing it for the public good, where they? Like the outsiders zipping though town at a speedy 45, they deserved a little less justice than the other guys. Or a little more, depending on your point of view. Arbitrary enforcement of the law weakens the whole system. How much faith do you have in the IRS to fairly enforce the tax law when they single out whole swaths of citizens based solely on their ideology? How much trust do you place in the EPA when it throws up barriers to those seeking information that should be known to all citizens?
The foundation of our government is that it is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We the people have given the government power in order that it might serve us. When it uses that power for the benefit of some and the suppression of others, those foundations are damaged.