January 8, 2015

Ringing in the new year with news of court victories for liberty

By Mark Miller Senior Attorney

The new year has brought news of victories for liberty across the fruited plain. Earlier this week, the Weston (Ct.) Forum reported on a five-million dollar jury verdict in favor of a property owner and against the town of Weston for illegally preventing that property owner from developing its property. This property-rights case, like PLF’s Koontz case and others, took many years to reach the trial stage—in this Weston case, an incredible nine years from original filing to jury verdict. But that verdict was worthwhile, as recounted by the Forum:

In its decision, the jury checked “Yes” to the following statements on its verdict form:

1. We find that the Town of Weston violated Stones Trail’s right to equal protection under the laws.

2. We find that the Town of Weston deprived Stones Trail of due process.

3. We find that the Town of Weston imposed an inverse condemnation on Stones Trail’s property.

4. We find that the Town’s violation of plaintiff’s rights was a substantial factor in causing the injuries and damages of the plaintiff.

So the town managed to violate the property owner’s constitutional rights to both equal protection of the laws and due process, while at the same time effectively taking the owner’s property unconstitutionally.

All in a day’s work for your average local government these days.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, a federal judge in Austin ruled that Isis Brantley, a woman who teaches hair braiding, could teach students “the centuries-old art of African hair braiding without meeting extensive state requirements to set up a formal barber college.” According to the federal judge who heard the case, the Texas officials who demanded Ms. Brantley set up a barber school violated her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by setting unreasonable and irrational requirements for her to teach hair braiding. The judge’s ruling reminded me of my PLF colleague Timothy Sandefur‘s testimony several months ago before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business on how occupational licensing often imposes an unconstitutional burden on the right to earn a living.

Although I don’t live in Texas, when first reading of this case I thought I would have to shut my 16-year old daughter down, as she likes to braid her younger sisters’ hair, and sometimes even shows them how to do so. It’s nice to know that the Constitution allows her to continue this practice, although who knew a federal court ruling was necessary to braid hair?

The Dallas Morning News reported that Ms. Brantley was focusing on her work when she received the ruling. Let’s hope that the government officials who forced this woman to challenge this ridiculous law are not doing the same.

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