This issue of Local Liberty presents a variety of essays and reviews on conservative themes, concluding that more than even new tax and regulation policies, what local government most needs today is the restoration of constitutional standards. We see this need for constitutionalism in areas as diverse as property rights,
immigration, direct democracy, and faith-based welfare reform.
An abstraction such as "constitutionalism" became concrete in the brutal message brought to us by the Supreme Court in the Kelo v. New London case. The 5-4 decision authorizes local governments to seize private property and
transfer it to another private owner, if they provide a development plan. If the public benefits (as asserted by local governments' plans), the Constitution does not bar the taking of private property. This brutal candor makes
clear for all with eyes to see the difference between a Court decision and respect for natural rights. The Constitution is not what the Court says it is. The Claremont Institute, through its Center for Constitutional
Jurisprudence, headed by John Eastman, filed a brief (co-authored by Eric Claeys) on behalf of the homeowners, whose points Justice Clarence Thomas reiterated in his ringing dissent. Our commentaries on Kelo can be found via localliberty.org, both the essays and our blog.
C. Robert Ferguson notes how Kelo's test of "public benefit" lifts the last bars to radical redevelopment in California, weakly held in check by the vague "blight" test. Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby's group Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform (MORR) will have much to say in its biennial conferences on this setback for liberty. They produce a useful guide, Redevelopment: The Unknown Government. Ferguson's article will be included in the Claremont Institute's own primer on this subject.
This collapse of constitutionalism is evident in our three articles on illegal immigration. E. Anderson describes from experience the horrific situation confronting American citizens who live on the Arizona border. Edward J. Erler lays bare the anarchy the "sanctuary cities" movement is really calling for and creating, by allowing lawlessness in the form of illegal immigrants and then surrendering authority over them. John Fonte cuts through the economic arguments to the constitutional one, how such immigration undermines the value we put on our citizenship. Finally, immigration status is one of several topics John Eastman addresses in his review of Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence litigation. The problem, we conclude, is not too many immigrants; it's not enough Americans.
One problem of defending constitutionalism in California lies the ease with which our fundamental law can be
amended: by majority vote of the people. Thus, California has unusual reliance on direct democracy. This enables Sacramento legislators to avoid making choices beneficial to the common good. Direct democracy may operate as a safety valve preventing the development of well-defined political parties with principled platforms. Governor Schwarzenegger has used this Progressive Era device to get around a legislature bordering on illegitimacy. It is
certainly his hope that the November election will produce some constitutional reform protecting individual rights and the rule of law. Steven Frates considers the politics and economics of initiatives in a review of a book establishing their success in reducing spending. While conservatives can note several triumphs through direct democracy (notably the antiracial and gender preferences Proposition 209), one should ponder the seeming lack of effect these triumphs have had on the bloated and incompetent Sacramento ethos.
Constitutional government has always relied on a citizenry motivated by virtuous conduct. Eloise Anderson considers how faithbased institutions can not only outperform
government welfare but also inspire both those who work in them and those for whom they work. It is yet another example of how the best American practice has always involved the harmony between enlightened laws and
It is all too easy to become saturated with national news, especially after the Internet and blogging revolutions. That revolution, former local government reporter Conor Friedersdorf notes, will dramatically affect the coverage of local government as well, and likely all to the good of exposing much mischief. It is a major tool of the spirit of self-government that lies at the heart of constitutionalism. But it is still a means only. The qualities of judgment and knowledge that alert citizens have always had to exercise remain at the core of constitutional government. It is to those qualities that this issue of Local Liberty and all the activity of the Center for Local Government are dedicated.