PLF fighting for the right to earn a living

April 27, 2012 | By TIMOTHY SANDEFUR

I’m in St. Louis today to argue the case of entrepreneur Michael Munie. He’s been in the moving business for 20 years, and his company, ABC Quality Moving, is one of the most popular moving companies in the city. But under state law, he can’t get permission to operate throughout the rest of Missouri unless he basically gets permission from the state’s other moving companies. As we explained in January, the state law says that when you apply for a license to operate, the state notifies all the existing moving companies and gives them the chance to file objections. When they object—and since 2005, every person asking for a state-wide permit has suffered an objection—you have to go to a hearing and prove that there’s a “public need” for a new moving company. Not only that, but the hearing officer is required by law to “consider” the “diversion of traffic” from existing companies—in other words, he’s biased against allowing any new competition. Worse still, the standards that apply at that hearing are vague phrases like “present or future useful public purpose” and “convenience and necessity.” What do these mean? How do you prove such a thing? Nobody knows. As we pointed out in our brief, some of these phrases have never been used before in the history of law!

Of the more than 100 objections filed against mover applications since 2005, not a single one has ever suggested that an applicant was dangerous or unqualified or anything like that. On the contrary, every objection has asserted only that allowing a new company would cause increased competition. And in one case in 2005, an applicant named Gaines was denied a license in a written opinion that admitted he was fully qualified and had the necessary insurance—but because he would compete with existing businesses, he was turned down.

We argue that this law violates Michael Munie’s constitutional right to earn a living, and for no good reason at all. The law protects the private interests of existing firms, not the public interest. Although the government can restrict people’s economic choices in order to prevent fraud or pollution or other public harms, it cannot just choose to favor one business over another simply because it wants to. Even under the most lenient constitutional standard, government can only use its powers to protect the public good.