Tag Archives: Supreme Court

In Kansas, politics may now cure its own harm

I don’t care who does the electing so long as I do the nominating.
– William “Boss” Tweed, political boss of Tammany Hall

Critics of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback point to his nomination of a confidant to the Kansas Court of Appeals as evidence of politics trumping the — purportedly — merit-based selection process formerly in place.

The previous process, however, was nothing if not political. Its defenders — the state’s legal profession — denied that, but they were in charge of the process.

In fact, the reason that Caleb Stegall, the current nominee, is not already on the bench is politics.

Stegall’s recommendation from Felita Kahrs, a member of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, highlights both his judicial qualifications and the political challenge he may face as a nominee. Ms. Kahrs previously reviewed Stegall’s application for the Kansas Court of Appeals, and her recommendation says that she found that his “outstanding academic background, his excellent writing ability, and the experience he brings to this position, exceeded and in some cases far surpassed the other applicants.” Even though she believed that he “was one of the top candidates that appeared before the Commission,” she explained, “due to politics, his name was not submitted.”

That’s from National Review Online’s Bench Memos.

And if you’re wondering why so many will criticize this appointment and the new process, well, “hell hath no fury like a lawyer scorned.”

Special interests will capture south-central Kansas planning

Special interest groups are likely to co-opt the government planning process started in south-central Kansas as these groups see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play over the next few years.

Sedgwick County has voted to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. While some justified their votes in favor of the plan because “it’s only a plan,” once the planning process begins, special interests plot to benefit themselves at the expense of the general public. Once the plan is formed, it’s nearly impossible to revise it, no matter how evident the need.

An example of how much reverence is given to government plans comes right from the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Kelo v. New London, in which the Court decided that government could use the power of eminent domain to take one person’s property and transfer it to someone else for the purposes of economic development. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stevens cited the plan: “The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.” Here we see the importance of the plan and due reverence given to it.

Stevens followed up, giving even more weight to the plan: “To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

To Stevens, the fact that the plan was comprehensive was a factor in favor of its upholding. The sustainable communities plan, likewise, is nothing but comprehensive, as described by county manager Bill Buchanan in a letter to commissioners: “[the plan will] consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

That pretty much covers it all. When you’re charged with promoting economic prosperity, defending earth against climate change, and promoting public health, there is no limit to the types of laws you might consider.

Who will plan?

The American Planning Association praised the Court’s notice of the importance of a plan, writing “This decision underscores the importance for a community to have a comprehensive development plan formulated through a democratic planning process with meaningful public participation by everyone.”

But these plans are rarely by and for the public. Almost always the government planning process is taken over and captured by special interests. We see this in public schools, where the planning and campaigning for new facilities is taken over by architectural and construction firms that see school building as a way to profit. It does not matter to them whether the schools are needed.

Our highway planning is hijacked by construction firms that stand to benefit, whether or not new roads are actually needed.

Our planning process for downtown Wichita is run by special interest groups that believe that downtown has a special moral imperative, and another group that sees downtown as just another way to profit at taxpayer expense. Both believe that taxpayers across Wichita, Kansas, and even the entire country must pay to implement their vision. As shown in Kansas and Wichita need pay-to-play laws the special interests that benefit from public spending on downtown make heavy political campaign contributions to nearly all members of the Wichita City Council. They don’t have a political ideology. They contribute only because they know council members will be voting to give them money.

In Wichita’s last school bond election, 72 percent of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from new school construction, no matter whether schools are actually needed. The firm of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture led the way in making these contributions. It’s not surprising that this firm was awarded a no-bid contract for plan management services for the bond issue valued at $3.7 million. This firm will undoubtedly earn millions more for those projects on which it serves as architect.

The special interest groups that benefit from highway construction: They formed a group called Economic Lifelines. It says it was formed to “provide the grassroots support for Comprehensive Transportation Programs in Kansas.” Its motto is “Stimulating economic vitality through leadership in infrastructure development.”

A look at the membership role, however, lets us know whose economic roots are being stimulated. Membership is stocked with names like AFL-CIO, Foley Equipment Company, Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City, Kansas Aggregate & Concrete Associations, Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, and PCA South Central Cement Promotion Association. Groups and companies like these have an economic interest in building more roads and highways, whether or not the state actually needs them.

The planners themselves are a special interest group, too. They need jobs. Like most government bureaucrats, they “profit” from increasing their power and sphere of influence, and by expansion of their budgets and staffs. So when Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton asks a professional planner questions about the desirability of planning, what answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

And we have evidence that planners watch out for themselves. It is not disputed that this planning grant benefits Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP). Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau says that John Schlegel, Wichita’s Director of Planning, told him that “acceptance of this grant will take REAP to another level, because right now they are struggling, and this will help plot the course for REAP.” He said that REAP, which is housed at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University, needs to expand its role and authority in order to give it “something to do.”

We see that REAP is another special interest group seeking to benefit itself. In this case, our best hope is that REAP engages in merely make-work, that the plan it produces is put on a shelf and ignored, and that the only harm to us is the $1.5 million cost of the plan.

By the way, did you know that Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, who voted in favor of the plan that benefits REAP, is now chairman of REAP? Special interest groups know how to play the political game.

Wichita City Council can’t judge airport contract

On Tuesday the Wichita City Council will conduct a hearing for review of the award of a contract for the construction of the new Wichita Airport terminal. But because of relationships between nearly all council members — especially Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer — and one of the parties to the dispute, the city council should not participate in this decision.

The contract, worth about $100 million, was awarded to Dondlinger and Sons and its partner. Dondlinger has built many large projects, including INTRUST Bank Arena. But the city then ruled that Dondliger’s bid is “unresponsive.” The reason is that Dondlinger may not have met bid requirements regarding disadvantaged and minority business enterprises.

The firm next in line to receive the contract is Key Construction of Wichita. If the city council finds against Dondllinger, Key gets the contract, presumably. That’s the source of the problem the city council faces, as Key is heavily involved in politics, with its executives and their spouses often making the maximum allowed campaign contributions to nearly all members of the council. Personal relationships may play a role, too.

For the mayor and current council members, here is my tabulation of how much Key-associated persons made to each member’s most recent campaign:

Carl Brewer: $4,500
Jeff Longwell (district 5, west and northwest Wichita): $4,000
Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita): $3,000
Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita): $2,500
Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita): $1,500
James Clendenin (district 3, southeast and south Wichita): $1,000
Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita): $0

Is there a pattern to these contributions? That is, does Key make contributions to candidates with a specific political philosophy, such as conservatism or liberalism? Of the top three contributors, two have distinctly liberal ideas about taxation and spending, while the other is touting conservative credentials as he campaigns for another office. Patterns like this suggest that the contributions are made to gain access to officeholders, or for favorable consideration when the donor asks the council to vote to give it money or contracts. Key Construction does that a lot.

Wichita mayor Carl Brewer with major campaign donor Dave Wells of Key Construction.

The political influence of Key Construction extends beyond campaign contributions, too. Mayor Brewer’s personal Facebook profile has a photo album holding pictures of him on a fishing trip with Dave Wells of Key Construction.

These political investments have paid off for Key Construction, as it has received a number of no-bid contracts over the years. Last August the council decided to award Key a no-bid contract to build the parking garage that is part of the Ambassador Hotel project. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. All council members except Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) voted for the no-bid contract to Key Construction, although Mayor Carl Brewer was absent. It is likely that he would have voted with the majority, however.

Later the city decided to place the contract for bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price some $1.3 million less.

What citizens need to know is that the city council, except O’Donnell, was willing to spend an extra $1.3 million on a project awarded to a politically-connected construction firm.

So should the Wichita City Council make the decision on the airport contract? City documents don’t indicate whether Tuesday’s hearing is of a quasi-judicial nature, as it is sometimes when the council rules on certain matters involving appeal of decisions made by city authorities. But the council is being asked to make decisions involving whether discretion was abused or whether laws were improperly applied.

That sounds a lot like the role of judges. In 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, in the words of legal watchdog group Judicial Watch, “… significant campaign contributions or other electoral assistance pose a risk of actual bias. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said: ‘Just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause so too can fears of bias arise when a man chooses the judge in his own cause.’”

Judicial Watch also noted “The ruling will likely affect judges in 39 states that elect them — including Washington, Texas and California — from presiding over cases in which their campaign contributions could create a conflict of interest. The nation’s judicial code has long said that judges should disqualify themselves from proceedings in which impartiality might reasonably be questioned, but the Supreme Court ruling is the first to address hefty election spending.”

The mayor and council members are not judges. But they’re being asked to make a judge-like decision. If held to the same standards as the U.S. Supreme Court says judges must follow, Mayor Brewer and the five council members who accepted campaign contributions from Key Construction need to recuse themselves from Tuesday’s decision on the Wichita Airport construction contract. A similar argument can be made for city manager Robert Layton and all city employees. Directly or indirectly they serve at the pleasure of the council.

Finally, this episode is another example of why Wichita and Kansas need pay-to-play laws.

In Kansas, planning will be captured by special interests

The government planning process started in south-central Kansas will likely be captured by special interest groups that see ways to benefit from the plan. The public choice school of economics and political science has taught us how special interest groups seek favors from government at enormous costs to society, and we will see this at play again over the next few years.

This week the Sedgwick County Commission voted to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. While some justified their votes in favor of the plan because “it’s only a plan,” once the planning process begins, special interests plot how to benefit themselves at the expense of the general public. Then once the plan is formed, it’s nearly impossible to revise it, no matter how evident the need.

An example of how much reverence is given to government plans comes right from the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision Kelo v. New London, in which the Court decided that government could use the power of eminent domain to take one person’s property and transfer it to someone else for the purposes of economic development. In his opinion for the Court, Justice Stevens cited the plan: “The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community.” Here we see the importance of the plan and due reverence given to it.

Stevens followed up, giving even more weight to the plan: “To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

To Stevens, the fact that the plan was comprehensive was a factor in favor of its upholding. The sustainable communities plan, likewise, is nothing but comprehensive, as described by county manager Bill Buchanan in a letter to commissioners: “[the plan will] consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

That pretty much covers it all. When you’re charged with promoting economic prosperity, defending earth against climate change, and promoting public health, there is no limit to the types of laws you might consider.

Who will plan?

The American Planning Association praised the Court’s notice of the importance of a plan, writing “This decision underscores the importance for a community to have a comprehensive development plan formulated through a democratic planning process with meaningful public participation by everyone.”

But these plans are rarely by and for the public. Almost always the government planning process is taken over and captured by special interests. We see this in public schools, where the planning and campaigning for new facilities is taken over by architectural and construction firms that see school building as a way to profit. It does not matter to them whether the schools are needed.

Our highway planning is hijacked by construction firms that stand to benefit, whether or not new roads are actually needed.

Our planning process for downtown Wichita is run by special interest groups that believe that downtown has a special moral imperative, and another group that sees downtown as just another way to profit at taxpayer expense. Both believe that taxpayers across Wichita, Kansas, and even the entire country must pay to implement their vision. As shown in Kansas and Wichita need pay-to-play laws the special interests that benefit from public spending on downtown make heavy political campaign contributions to nearly all members of the Wichita City Council. They don’t have a political ideology. They contribute only because they know council members will be voting to give them money.

In Wichita’s last school bond election, 72 percent of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, was given by contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from new school construction, no matter whether schools are actually needed. The firm of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture led the way in making these contributions. It’s not surprising that this firm was awarded a no-bid contract for plan management services for the bond issue valued at $3.7 million. This firm will undoubtedly earn millions more for those projects on which it serves as architect.

The special interest groups that benefit from highway construction: They formed a group called Economic Lifelines. It says it was formed to “provide the grassroots support for Comprehensive Transportation Programs in Kansas.” Its motto is “Stimulating economic vitality through leadership in infrastructure development.”

A look at the membership role, however, lets us know whose economic roots are being stimulated. Membership is stocked with names like AFL-CIO, Foley Equipment Company, Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City, Kansas Aggregate & Concrete Associations, Kansas Asphalt Pavement Association, Kansas Contractors Association, Kansas Society of Professional Engineers, and PCA South Central Cement Promotion Association. Groups and companies like these have an economic interest in building more roads and highways, whether or not the state actually needs them.

The planners themselves are a special interest group, too. They need jobs. Like most government bureaucrats, they “profit” from increasing their power and influence, and by expansion of their budgets and staffs. So when Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton asks a professional planner questions about the desirability of planning, what answer does he think he will get? It’s not that the planners are not honest people. But they have a vested economic and professional interest in seeing that we have more government planning, not less.

And we have evidence that planners watch out for themselves. It is not disputed that this planning grant benefits Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP). Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau says that John Schlegel, Wichita’s Director of Planning, told him that “acceptance of this grant will take REAP to another level, because right now they are struggling, and this will help plot the course for REAP.” He said that REAP, which is housed at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University, needs to expand its role and authority in order to give it “something to do.”

We see that REAP is another special interest group seeking to benefit itself. In this case, our best hope is that REAP engages in merely make-work, that the plan it produces is put on a shelf and ignored, and that the only harm to us is the $1.5 million cost of the plan.

By the way, did you know that Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, who voted in favor of the plan that benefits REAP, is a board member of REAP, and may become the next chairman? Special interest groups know how to play the political game, that’s for sure.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday March 26, 2012

Pachyderms to feature talk on sustainable development. This Friday (March 30rd) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Tom DeWeese, President, American Policy Center, speaking on U.N. Agenda 21: Sustainable Development. Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence. … The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … The club has an exceptional lineup of future speakers as follows: On April 6th: Jordan A. Poland, who will discuss his Master of Arts thesis in Public History at Wichita State University, titled “A case study of Populism in Kansas. The election of Populist Governor Lorenzo Lewelling from Wichita, and the Legislative War of 1893.” … On April 13th: Alvin Sarachek, Ph.D., Geneticist, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences at Wichita State University, speaking on “Human Genetic Individuality and Confused Public Policy Making.” … On April 20th: Senator Steve Morris, President of the Kansas Senate, speaking on “Legislative update.” … On April 27th: Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr., Professor of Finance, Friends University, speaking on “The Open Minded Roots of American Exceptionalism, and the Decline of America’s Greatness.”

PPACAction. That is, where should you go to keep up with action surrounding PPACA, commonly known as Obamacare, as the legislation is argued before the U.S. Supreme Court this week? Try PPACAction, a project of Texas Public Policy Foundation. Also featured on the site is Experts’ Guide to the Issues.

The seven rules of bureaucracy. In this article, authors Loyd S. Pettegrew and Carol A. Vance quote Thomas Sowell: “When the government creates some new program, nothing is easier than to show whatever benefits that program produces. … But it is virtually impossible to trace the taxes that paid for the program back to their sources and to show the alternative uses of that same money that could have been far more beneficial.” In order to understand the foundation of America’s morass, we must examine bureaucracy. At the root of this growing evil is the very nature of bureaucracy, especially political bureaucracy. French economist Frédéric Bastiat offered an early warning in 1850 that laws, institutions, and acts — the stuff of political bureaucracy — produce economic effects that can be seen immediately, but that other, unforeseen effects happen much later. He claimed that bad economists look only at the immediate, seeable effects and ignore effects that come later, while good economists are able to look at the immediate effects and foresee effects, both good and bad, that come later. … Both the seen and the unseen have become a necessary condition of modern bureaucracy. (Bastiat: That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen.) The first rule? “Maintain the problem at all costs!”

Civil society. Edward H. Crane, speaking nearly twenty years ago. I think things have become worse since then: “In a civil society you make the choices about your life. In a political society someone else makes those choices. And because it is not the natural order of things for someone other than you to make those decisions about your life, the political society is of necessity based on coercion. … Civil society, on the other hand, is based on voluntarism and predicated on giving the widest possible latitude to the individual so that he has sovereignty over his own life, so long as he respects the equal rights of others in society. It’s a simple concept, really, but a radical one nevertheless. It’s the concept on which this great nation of ours was founded and which was so revolutionary that it motivated tens of millions of people from around the globe to come here, often giving up everything, just to live in the ‘land of the free.’ … It does seem ironic that so many politicians in this country hold this curiously benign view of government as some kind of giant nanny, that will make everything okay if we just give it more money. Because as we enter the 21st century, government activities beyond its legitimate function of the protection of life, liberty, and property have pretty much been exposed as one of the great failures of civilization. Coercive, political society simply doesn’t work very well. Most people, whether they’re willing to admit it or not, know that now. There is a reason why East Germany produced the smoke- belching bucket-of-bolts Trabant, and West Germany produced the Mercedes, the BMW, the Porsche, the Audi, and the Volkswagen. Same people, same culture, different political system. Civil society worked; political society didn’t. Yet politicians in America continue to give credence to the idea that the political society can address our problems better than the institutions of the civil society. As Milton Friedman has observed, we seem to be saying that we know that socialism is a failure and that capitalism is a success, therefore we need more socialism.”

One down, 48 to go. “‘Building better communities’ was the slogan of the California Redevelopment Association. But the critics charged that redevelopment agencies ‘deprived tens of thousands of working and lower-income residents of their homes and livelihoods while granting vast subsidies to billionaires.’ In the end, the social justice questions didn’t matter, but the subsidies did, so to save the state billions of dollars a year, California redevelopment agencies shut down for good last week. … California invented TIF in 1952. Since then, 48 other states have passed similar laws. Now a pioneer in ending such crony capitalism, the Antiplanner hopes the other 48 states will soon follow California’s example. Good riddance to a waste of money that benefited few people other than a few politicians and developers.” More from Randal O’Toole at One Down, 48 to Go. O’Toole also authored the Cato Institute Policy Analysis Crony Capitalism and Social Engineering: The Case against Tax-Increment Financing.”

Economic freedom in America: The decline, and what it means. “The U.S.’s gains in economic freedom made over 20 years have been completely erased in just nine.” Furthermore, our economic freedom is still dropping, to the point where we now rank below Canada. The result is slow growth in the private sector economy and persistent high unemployment. This is perhaps the most important takeaway from a short new video from Economic Freedom Project, which is a project of the Charles Koch Institute. The video explains that faster growth in government spending causes slower growth in the private economy. This in turn has lead to the persistent high unemployment that we are experiencing today. … To view the video at the Economic Freedom Project site, click on Episode Two: Economic Freedom in America Today. Or, click on the YouTube video below.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday March 8, 2012

Candidate representatives at Pachyderm. This Friday’s meeting (March 9th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Republican presidential candidate spokespersons. In addition, Lora Cox, Executive Director of the Sedgwick County Republican Party will be on hand to answer questions regarding the mechanics of Saturday’s Republican Party Caucus. … The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Sedgwick County pre-caucus rally. Friday afternoon (March 9th) Kansans for Liberty is producing a pre-caucus rally at Century II. Ron Paul is scheduled to appear. There will be other speakers and live entertainment, say event organizers. Tickets are $25. For more information, see Kansans for Liberty.

Libertarian ideals. The Winfield Courier criticizes U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo for his bill that would eliminate all tax credits for energy, writing “This is a case of putting libertarian ideals ahead — far ahead — of the interests of our region and our state.” But the libertarian ideals of personal liberty, economic freedom, and free markets ought to be all that government concerns itself with. … This is not the only way this op-ed is misinformed on facts. The anonymous author writes: “New, life-changing technologies, from the railroads to the Internet, have long had the active support of our national government.” But: Consider the railroads. The government-subsidized railroads involved in the transcontinental project went bankrupt. Only The Great Northern Railroad, which was built without government subsidy, was profitable and not a burden on the national treasury. (See Interfacing with Obama’s Intercontinental Railroad). Shame on the Winfield Courier so being so misinformed on U.S. history and the proper role of a limited government.

High Kansas taxes. Kansas Reporter covers more of the Tax Foundation’s report on the high cost of Kansas business taxes: “A new national study says Kansas business owners pay some of the highest taxes in the country. … Kansas businesses that are 3 or fewer years old pay the third-highest total taxes in the nation among all 50 states and Washington, D.C., the study found. Older businesses, such as Midway Wholesale, pay the fourth-highest totals. The findings contrast sharply with previous surveys, including some by the Tax Foundation, that put Kansas closer to the midpoint in regard to tax burden. As recently as January, for example, the foundation released its latest compilation of its Business Tax Climate Index, which put Kansas almost dead center — in 25th place — among lightest- to heaviest-taxed states. ‘Those surveys focus on tax policies, such as what types of taxes do states have or what are their tax rates,’ said Scott Hodge, the foundation’s president. ‘This new study looks at the issue from a business’ viewpoint and what they actually pay.’” … More at New study finds KS tax loads worse than reported.

Harm of individual mandate explained. In the following short video, Elizabeth Price Foley of the Institute for Justice explains the harm of the individual mandate that is the centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). She explains that if the U.S. Supreme Court fails to strike down the individual mandate, there will be nothing to stop Congress from forcing people into other contracts against their will — employment contracts or union membership, for example. If we still have a constitutional republic in which the federal government’s powers are limited, then the Court should strike down this law. More information on IJ’s brief is contained in this press release.

‘Honest services’ law expansion sought

While the U.S. Supreme Court has attempted to limit the application of vague “honest services” statutes, the Obama Administration is working to restore what the Wall Street Journal describes as “essentially unlimited prosecutorial discretion to bring white-collar cases.”

David Rittgers of the Cato Institute explains the meaning of this law: “The ‘honest services’ statute criminalizes ‘a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.’ This criminalized an employee lying to his employer, and as Justice Scalia pointed out, ‘would seemingly cover a salaried employee’s phoning in sick to go to a ball game.’ Prosecutors were able to get those convicted up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.”

On the impact of the laws, Rittgers writes: “As a practical matter, the law gave federal prosecutors the power to criminalize objectionable behavior, conflating the merely unethical with the intentionally criminal. Behavior that was not illegal under state law (particularly state ethics requirements for public officials) became illegal under federal law.”

In other words, the power of prosecutors was vast. While the Court rewrote the law, Rittgers contends that little has changed.

The Journal notes how the honest services laws amount to a large expansion of the criminal justice system, and is used as a method of back-door business regulation: “Among the multitude of federal, state and local laws, there is little human behavior, much less criminal activity, that remains outside the reach of the justice system. Federal white-collar criminal statutes have multiplied in recent years, often as a way to regulate business conduct.”

The vagueness of this law troubles Timothy Sandefur, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation and Cato Institute Adjunct Scholar. In his article Get Rid of Vague Laws: They impede on individual rights and economic freedom, he explained the danger of vague laws: “There’s probably nothing more dangerous to individual rights than vaguely written laws. They give prosecutors and judges undue power to decide whether or not to punish conduct that people did not know was illegal at the time. Vagueness turns the law into a sword dangling over citizens’ heads — and because government officials can choose when and how to enforce their own interpretations of the law, vagueness gives them power to make their decisions from unfair or discriminatory motives.”

Sandefur notes that vagueness combined with proliferation of criminal laws gives government large power over citizens: “Combine vagueness with the ever expanding number of statutes and regulations affecting businesses and entrepreneurs on a daily basis and the result is a government bureaucracy with almost unlimited power to intimidate and blackmail citizens with the threat of prosecution — or to punish practically any conduct they choose to declare ‘illegal.’”

Sandefur explains this and more in an audio broadcast The Intangible Right of Honest Services.

The Journal piece also warns of the danger of vague laws: “Vague laws are invitations to legal mischief. In his recent dissent in Sykes v. U.S., Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that ‘We face a Congress that puts forth an ever-increasing volume of laws in general, and of criminal laws in particular. It should be no surprise that as the volume increases, so do the number of imprecise laws.’”

What is troubling are the efforts by the Obama Administration and some members of Congress to undo what limits the Court applied, and also their efforts to expand the power of prosecutors. An assistant U.S. attorney general told Congress that it needed to “remedy” the Court’s decision. The Journal also reports there are three bills in Congress that would “[expand] the reach of prosecutors to go after unpopular politicians or businesses whom they can’t pin with a real crime.”

An example is a bill introduced in the last Congress by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, titled “Honest Services Restoration Act.” In the current Congress, virtually identical legislation has been introduced under the title H.R. 1468: Honest Services Restoration Act. It was introduced by Representative Anthony Weiner of New York, who is no longer serving in Congress.

The Journal article is Return of ‘Honest Services’: Politicians try to restore prosecutorial powers that the Supreme Court killed (subscription required).

Kansas restrictive covenants eased regarding political yard signs

It’s common for neighborhoods to have restrictive covenants that prohibit homeowners from placing any signs in their yard, except for signs advertising homes for sale. But a 2008 Kansas law overrides these restrictive covenants to allow for the placement of small political yard signs starting 45 days before an election. Still, residents of covenant neighborhoods may want to observe their neighborhood’s restrictions, even though they are not valid.

The bill was the product of then-Senator Phil Journey of Haysville. Journey is now a judge in the Kansas 18th Judicial District. The bill passed unanimously in both the Kansas House and Senate.

According to the First Amendment Center, some 50 million people live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations. And laws like the 2008 Kansas law are not without controversy, despite the unanimous vote in the Kansas Legislature.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governmental entities like cities can’t stop homeowners from displaying political yard signs, a homeowners association is not government. Instead, it is a group that people voluntarily enter.

Generally, when prospective homeowners purchase a home in a neighborhood with restrictive covenants, they are asked to sign a document pledging to comply with the provisions in the covenants. If those covenants prohibit political yard signs, but a Kansas law says these covenants do not apply, what should a homeowner do?

In his monumental work For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, Murray N. Rothbard argues that the right to free speech is not based on some “vague and wooly” concept that protects the “public interest,” such as prohibition of falsely crying “fire” in a theater. Instead, it should be based on property rights. (page 43)

In the case of falsely crying “fire” in the theater, Rothbard argues that this act violates the contract between the theater owner and patrons to enjoy the presentation without interruption. It violates their property rights.

While a homeowner certainly owns the yard in front of his house, he does so based on the voluntary agreements entered into, such as payment of an agreed-upon amount of money to the previous owner. Another agreement entered into is between the new homeowner and all the other homeowners in the neighborhood through the restrictive covenants.

So if those restrictive covenants prohibit political yard signs, that restriction is something that has been mutually agreed to. It is part of the property rights that homeowners in the neighborhood enjoy. It cannot be violated without violating the property rights of those who bought their homes with the understanding that the covenants are part of the property they purchased.

Practically: Should you display signs in your yard?

While Kansas law makes it legal for those living in communities with covenants that prohibit political yard signs, residents may want to observe these convents. Here’s why: If neighbors are not aware of this new Kansas law and therefore still believe that the yard signs are not allowed in your neighborhood, that may cause them to think badly of those with yard signs, and by extension, the candidates that are being promoted.

Yes, these people who believe the covenants against yard signs are still valid are misinformed, but they vote, too. Whether to display yard signs in a covenant neighborhood is a judgment that each person will have to make for themselves.

The Kansas statute

K.S.A. 58-3820. Restrictive covenants; political yard signs; limitations. (a) On and after the effective date of this act, any provision of a restrictive covenant which prohibits the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, during a period commencing 45 days before an election and ending two days after the election is hereby declared to be against public policy and such provision shall be void and unenforceable.

(b) The provisions of this section shall apply to any restrictive covenant in existence on the effective date of this act.

Or, as described in the 2008 Summary of Legislation: “The bill invalidates any provision of a restrictive covenant prohibiting the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, 45 days before an election or two days after the election.”

Kansas judicial selection expert to address Pachyderms

This Friday (August 6) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Kansas University law professor Stephen J. Ware. Ware is an expert on the process of judicial selection in Kansas and other states. His research shows that Kansas is at the undemocratic extreme end of the spectrum in concentrating power in members of the bar when it comes to selecting judges for our state’s highest courts.

All are welcome to attend Wichita Pachyderm Club meetings. The program costs $10, which includes a delicious buffet lunch including salad, soup, two main dishes, and ice tea and coffee. The meeting starts at noon, although it’s recommended to arrive fifteen minutes early to get your lunch before the program starts.

The Wichita Petroleum Club is on the ninth floor of the Bank of America Building at 100 N. Broadway (north side of Douglas between Topeka and Broadway) in Wichita, Kansas (click for a map and directions). You may park in the garage (enter west side of Broadway between Douglas and First Streets) and use the sky walk to enter the Bank of America building. The Petroleum Club will stamp your parking ticket and the fee will be $1.00. Or, there is usually some metered and free street parking nearby.

Second amendment decision not permanent

By Karl Peterjohn

The United States Supreme Court narrowly agreed today that the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individuals right to possess firearms. Sadly, this was a narrow, 5-4 decision that could be changed when another 2nd Amendment case works its way to the Court when its membership changes.

This has happened in the past. In fact, my lawyer friends tell me that it is not unusual for this to happen.

Yet this is an individual right. The United States could not have been created if this had not been implicit among the rights claimed by our colonial forefathers.

One overlooked fact is that this right is clearly called out in many state constitutions. This includes Kansas where Section 4 in the Kansas Bill of Rights states: “Bear arms; armies. The people have the right to bear arms for their defense and security; but standing armies, in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and shall not be tolerated, and the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power.”

That’s clear language. The people have this right and not the “national guard” as the statist left has been alleging. The fear expressed here if of standing armies, not individuals and their firearms. Now, this is not to say that this language cannot be misconstrued. It can and in Kansas, it has.

However, the people have this power and this language clearly says so. Like the First Amendment in our federal Bill of Rights that begins, “Congress shall make no law…” when it comes to religion, speech, or press. Despite this, the regulation of speech continues and even thrives. Efforts to continue to destroy our 2nd Amendment freedoms will continue.

The odious statist mayor in Chicago has said that they will continue to flout the 2nd Amendment. However, this is a victory for freedom, but only by a tiny 5-4 margin.

Kansas restrictive neighborhood covenants don’t apply to political yard signs

It’s common for neighborhoods to have restrictive covenants that prohibit homeowners from placing any signs in their yard, except for signs advertising homes for sale. But a 2008 Kansas law overrides these restrictive covenants to allow for the placement of small political yard signs starting 45 days before an election.

The bill was the product of then-Senator Phil Journey of Haysville. Journey is now a judge in the Kansas 18th Judicial District. The bill passed unanimously in both the Kansas House and Senate.

According to the First Amendment Center, some 50 million people live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations. And laws like the 2008 Kansas law are not without controversy, despite the unanimous vote in the Kansas Legislature.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that governmental entities like cities can’t stop homeowners from displaying political yard signs, a homeowners association is not government. Instead, it is a group that people voluntarily enter.

Generally, when prospective homeowners purchase a home in a neighborhood with restrictive covenants, they are asked to sign a document pledging to comply with the provisions in the covenants. If those covenants prohibit political yard signs, but a Kansas law says these covenants do not apply, what should a homeowner do?

In his monumental work For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, Murray N. Rothbard argues that the right to free speech is not based on some “vague and wooly” concept that protects the “public interest,” such as prohibition of falsely crying “fire” in a theater. Instead, it should be based on property rights. (page 43)

In the case of falsely crying “fire” in the theater, Rothbard argues that this act violates the contract between the theater owner and patrons to enjoy the presentation without interruption. It violates their property rights.

While a homeowner certainly owns the yard in front of his house, he does so based on the voluntary agreements entered into, such as payment of an agreed-upon amount of money to the previous owner. Another agreement entered into is between the new homeowner and all the other homeowners in the neighborhood through the restrictive covenants.

So if those restrictive covenants prohibit political yard signs, that restriction is something that has been mutually agreed to. It is part of the property rights that homeowners in the neighborhood enjoy. It cannot be violated without violating the property rights of those who bought their homes with the understanding that the covenants are part of the property they purchased.

The Kansas statute

K.S.A. 58-3820. Restrictive covenants; political yard signs; limitations. (a) On and after the effective date of this act, any provision of a restrictive covenant which prohibits the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, during a period commencing 45 days before an election and ending two days after the election is hereby declared to be against public policy and such provision shall be void and unenforceable.

(b) The provisions of this section shall apply to any restrictive covenant in existence on the effective date of this act.

Or, as described in the 2008 Summary of Legislation: “The bill invalidates any provision of a restrictive covenant prohibiting the display of political yard signs, which are less than six square feet, 45 days before an election or two days after the election.”

For the August 3rd primary election, the first day for signs in restricted neighborhoods is June 19th.

For the general election on November 2, the first day for signs is September 18th.

Articles of Interest

Kansas liberal Republicans, student rights, greenwashing, historic preservation, Sotamayor.

Can we please send Steve Rose to a political science class?

The northeast Kansas blog Kaw & Border has a few words of criticism for Johnson County Sun publisher Steve Rose. Specifically:

In this case, the “adjusted fact” was his view that tax cuts have put Kansas in a financial crisis, the few good observations were some long overdue spending cuts, his strawman was the Kansas Chamber and “conservatives”, and his nonsensical point that drastic spending cuts in Calfiornia will be so terrible that Kansans won’t want it and, as he puts it “citizens will rebel, even if it means increased taxes.” He seems to imply that a high tax, high spending state, even one in a budget crisis, is preferable to one where our government spends within our means, people have money in their pockets, and government size is in line with what people really need.

If it weren’t for the fact this man influenced the opinion of thousands of Johnson Countians who rely on his weekly column for information and insight into what is going on with Kansas politics, we wouldn’t waste our time disecting his drivel.

Rather, we’d take up a fund to send Mr. Rose to a political science class — because his ignorance of the facts and political realities of the present do a great disservice to his readers.

Do Student Rights Interfere with Teaching and Learning in Public Schools?

“We have unwittingly transformed K-12 schools from places where educators are expected to shape character, set boundaries, and foster respect to ones where they are hesitant and unsure of their authority. … The survey firm Public Agenda has reported that 47 percent of superintendents would operate differently if ‘free from the constant threat of litigation’ and that 85 percent of teachers indicate that “most students suffer because of a few persistent troublemakers. … Fully 77 percent of teachers report that ‘if it weren’t for discipline problems, I could be teaching a lot more effectively.’”

The American Enterprise Institute articles reports more on this topic.

Claims of ‘Greenwashing’ on the Rise

“The so-called green movement has sprouted a fresh crop of lawsuits: greenwashing claims, in which companies are getting sued for making bogus eco-friendly statements about their products. Lawyers, environmentalists and marketing groups say that, during the past year, they’ve seen an uptick in greenwashing suits, which are questioning everything from household cleaners to automobiles for their greenworthiness. No surprise, they note, given the thousands of purported green products flooding the market.”

Consumers and environmental groups challenge eco-friendly statements on products reports on the details of this trend.

Historic Preservation Tax Credits Under Review in Jefferson City

More recently, Washington, D.C.-based economist and historic preservation proponent Donovan Rypkema has estimated that during the last decade, state historic tax credits led to more than $2 billion in rehabilitation of old buildings, brought Missourians $1.3 billion in additional income, and helped create 40,000 jobs.

But critics of tax credits, such as University of Missouri–Columbia economics professor Joseph Haslag, zero in on the total money returned to the state. He figures that the state receives just 3 to 4 cents for every dollar of goods and services produced in Missouri. So, for every dollar of a tax credit, the state would have to produce $25 to $22 of final goods and services for the state to get its money back.

“I think the only justification for historic preservation tax credits is the existence of an externality — we like to look at old, well-maintained buildings,” said Haslag, who is also executive vice president of the Show-Me Institute. “There is no economic development justification for the preservation tax credit.”

Read more at Policy Pulse, a publication of the Show-Me Institute.

Sotomayor’s bias against private property

From The Washington Times:

If you thought Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s controversial stances on racial issues were problematic, you should get a gander at the Supreme Court nominee’s apparent hostility to property rights.

Judge Sotomayor served as the senior judge on one 2006 case, Didden v. Village of Port Chester, which respected University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein described as “about as naked an abuse of government power as could be imagined.” Her judicial panel’s ruling might be the worst violation of property rights ever approved by a federal appeals court. It is part of a pattern of Judge Sotomayor’s pro-government rulings that run roughshod over the most basic of private property rights. …

These cases are extremely worrisome. Judge Sotomayor’s apparent bias against private property does not recommend her nomination for the nation’s highest court.

The Sotomayor Rules: Some were made to be broken.

From Kimberly A. Strassel in the Wall Street Journal.

Rather, it is Judge Sotomayor’s biography that uniquely qualifies her to sit on the nation’s highest bench — that gives her the “empathy” to rule wisely. Judge Sotomayor agrees: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” she said in 2001.

If so, perhaps we can expect her to join in opinions with the wise and richly experienced Clarence Thomas. That would be the same Justice Thomas who lost his father, and was raised by his mother in a rural Georgia town, in a shack without running water, until he was sent to his grandfather. The same Justice Thomas who had to work every day after school, though he was not allowed to study at the Savannah Public Library because he was black. The same Justice Thomas who became the first in his family to go to college and receive a law degree from Yale.

By the president’s measure, the nation couldn’t find a more empathetic referee than Justice Thomas. And yet here’s what Mr. Obama had to say last year when Pastor Rick Warren asked him about the Supreme Court: “I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don’t think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation.”

Sonia Sotomayor resource page

Now that President Obama has selected Sonia Sotomayor as the next United States Supreme Court justice, Americans will want to know more about her. Here are some resources:

Sonia Sotomayor Wikipedia entry

Sonia Sotomayor Judgepedia entry

The Huffington Post: Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Nominee: All You Need To Know

A controversial piece from The New Republic: The Case Against Sotomayor

Cato @ Liberty: Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Philosophy of Judging

Video: Sonia Sotomayor: We don’t make law (hee hee)

Mises Economics Blog: Obama Spins Diversity Wheel, Picks Ivy League Judge

Sonia Sotomayor resource page

Now that President Obama has selected Sonia Sotomayor as the next United States Supreme Court justice, Americans will want to know more about her. Here are some resources:

Sonia Sotomayor Wikipedia entry

Sonia Sotomayor Judgepedia entry

The Huffington Post: Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Nominee: All You Need To Know

A controversial piece from The New Republic: The Case Against Sotomayor

Cato @ Liberty: Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Philosophy of Judging

Video: Sonia Sotomayor: We don’t make law (hee hee)

Mises Economics Blog: Obama Spins Diversity Wheel, Picks Ivy League Judge

Sonia Sotomayor: We don’t make law (hee hee)

One of the names that’s surfacing as a potential Supreme Court justice is Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Those who believe that judges should interpret the law and not create new law from the bench should be alarmed that this person’s name is in consideration.

In this video from a conference in 2005, Sotomayor displays her contempt for the proper roll of judges. Her attitude is more like what we might expect of a guest on The View or The Ellen DeGeneres Show — either of which will probably be happening soon.

Part of her remarks: “I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don’t make law I know [audience laughter] … um, I, okay, I know, I know….I’m not promoting it, I’m not advocating it, I’m, you know [Sotomayor laughter] okay.”