Last month I wrote about a case that the Pacific Legal Foundation was arguing before the Supreme Court.
At issue in the case, Tyler v. Hennepin County was the outright theft of Geraldine Tyler’s home equity. Geraldine is 94 years old, and currently living in a nursing home, having been driven out of her condo due to high crime (caused by the failure of the city and the county to enforce the law).
She fell behind in her property taxes, and the county sold her condo and kept all the money, including equity that remained after paying her tax bill.
It was an appalling act of government theft, but of course, appalling and government are often found in the same sentence.
Well, the Supreme Court ruled on the case today, and the news, for once, is good. The good guys won by a unanimous decision. Every single Justice agreed that Hennepin County is a bunch of lying, thieving, greedy, and tyrannical bunch of MFers.
Uh, maybe that last part is hyperbole. They only said lying, thieving and greedy. None of the Justices would swear in an opinion.
Governments are very big on seizing property. And in this case, the seizure was particularly galling because much of the money owed was due to penalties, not taxes. A small GoFundMe would have gotten the taxes paid off in a few days, but at 94 such things don’t generally occur to a person, and she had nobody to think of such matters.
The Court’s decision seems like a no-brainer, but then again it should have been for lower courts. The fact that she won in the Supreme Court is great news, but the fact that it had to be decided there is very bad news indeed. The county in which I live–and in many others around the country–have been stealing money from taxpayers without remorse.
The principle that a government may not take from a taxpayer more than she owes is rooted in English law and can trace its origins at least
as far back as the Magna Carta. From the founding, the new Government of the United States could seize and sell only “so much of [a] tract of land . . . as may be necessary to satisfy the taxes due thereon.” Act of July 14, 1798, §13, 1 Stat. 601. Ten States adopted similar statutes around the same time, and the consensus that a government could not take more property than it was owed held true through the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Today, most States and the Federal Government require excess value to be returned to the taxpayer whose property is sold to satisfy outstanding tax debt.
Government officials whose duty it is to protect citizens and preserve our rights have arrogated to themselves the power to just take our property–not just in cases like these, but through civil forfeiture. Governments from the lowest to the highest level can just steal your property by claiming to suspect that they derive from the proceeds of a crime. No proof is necessary. People have lost their life savings to bureaucrats who steal it, and you have to sue to have a chance to get it back.
It’s absurd. It’s a procedure that stems from the war on drugs, and it has been weaponized against everybody.
Still, we take our victories where we can get them, and the Court was unanimous in supporting common sense. I hope the reason isn’t just that the victim was sympathetic–she is very sympathetic indeed–but because the theft of property is wrong no matter who does it.
The Declaration of Independence was very clear about the role of government, and every legislator should be forced to recite it as soon as they are sworn in.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
John Locke, whose writings are almost exactly mirrored in the Declaration, used the words “Life, Liberty, and Property,” and the Founders understood property as fundamental to our other liberties. The Supreme Court understood that, and explicitly referred to the Magna Carta which helped set limits to the rights of the King over others’ property.
The Founders would be appalled by the current state of American law. It’s good to see that the Court is paring back a few of the abuses.