In his latest column, George Will covered the Institute for Justice’s class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents in Pagedale, Mo., who are being nickeled and dimed by the city’s abuse of municipal fines. Pagedale issues tickets and fines for minor offenses like having mismatched curtains, barbequing on the front lawn, wearing pants below the waist and even walking on the left side of a crosswalk. Since 2010, these tickets have increased 495% and accounted for almost 18% of the city’s revenue in 2013. This produces a clear incentive to police for profit. Unfortunately, this practice isn’t unique to Pagedale: A study from Better Together showed the practice was rampant through St. Louis County, with 21 municipalities collecting over a fifth of their budgets from court fines and fees.
While Pagedale is quite small (it has just over 3,000 residents), the stakes are high. Will focused on how Pagedale’s “pettiness” violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. As Will elaborates:
The due process clause, properly construed, prohibits arbitrary government action, particularly that which unjustifiably restricts individuals’ liberties. That is, the due process clause is not purely about process. As Timothy Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation writes, what distinguishes due process is an outcome that is not arbitrary… there are implicit limits on government power, limits inherent in the idea of law. As Sandefur says, a legislative act that fails the tests of generality, regularity, fairness and rationality… is not a law, so enforcing it cannot be due process of law.
A victory in in the Pagedale lawsuit could save residents not just in St. Louis County, but throughout the country.