April 6, 2010

If you want a building permit, trade in your voting rights

By If you want a building permit, trade in your voting rights

Author: Timothy Sandefur

This morning’s edition of Fox And Friends featured PLF client Craig Griswold, a homeowner in Carlsbad, California, who was forced to give up his constitutionally guaranteed right to vote in exchange for a building permit. The Griswolds have a large family—add in all the kids and grandkids, and it’s about 13—and their small home wasn’t enough to hold everyone. So they sought a permit to construct some new rooms. That’s when the trouble started, because the city has an ordinance that requires property owners to pay an assessment before they can get a building permit.

An assessment is a special kind of property tax, and California’s constitution makes it illegal for cities to require homeowners to pay assessments without first holding an assessment election. Not only did Carlsbad violate this law, it went even further—it told the Griswolds that if they couldn’t afford the $114,979 assessment, they would have to sign a waiver forever giving up their rights under the California Constitution to vote on property assessments.

Even more amazingly, that waiver runs with the land to any future owner. So if the Griswolds sell the property or leave it to their kids, future owners won’t be allowed to vote either.

As I explained in Liberty magazine some time ago, the Griswolds’ case is just an extreme example of what is known in the law as an “exaction”: when government forces people to give up certain rights—usually, some of their land, or a sum of money—in exchange for permission to use their property. While there are some limited cases in which cities may do this legally, it’s very often perverted into a form of extortion. The government basically forces you to pay for the right to use your land as you want. And since cities so often get away with taking people’s land or money, why not also take away their voting rights?

I argued the Griswolds’ case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals almost a year ago. We’ll let you know as soon as the court reaches a decision. You can learn more about the case here and here.

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