In many states, spurious "stay-at-home" orders have spawned scores of petty tyrants.
The most publicized example, perhaps, is Judge Eric Moyé of Dallas County, Texas. He's the judge who abused both his authority and his common sense and jailed salon owner Shelley Luther on May 6 (two days before the official reopening of salons).
Luther had argued that she and her stylists could safely sanitize her salon to minimize risk, and that their livelihood was a necessity for familial needs like food and shelter. In the larger context, she said out loud and in court what millions of others have been thinking. How does shopping at a packed Walmart or Lowe's pose less contagion risk than getting a one-on-one hair appointment?
I got a haircut this week. After witnessing all the temperature-taking, mask-wearing, hand-washing, scissors-sanitizing and social distancing (I stayed in my car until called in), I can say with full confidence that it doesn't.
Proper judicial temperament is a requisite trait for any good judge, and that includes a propensity for perspective and common sense.
It appears that Judge Moyé may have let his pride get the better of him, and having power over Luther at that moment in his courtroom, he chose to impose tyranny rather than restraint in defense of liberty. He essentially abandoned, or at least subjugated, his sworn oath to protect the Constitution and Bill of Rights, which is no small transgression for a state district judge.
Within 48 hours, the Texas attorney general, lieutenant governor, governor and Supreme Court had all condemned his decision. Attorney General Ken Paxton called Moyé "out of touch" for jailing a single mother trying to feed her children. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he'd pay the $7,000 fine Moyé had levied on Luther. Outraged over the display of judicial indiscretion, Gov. Greg Abbott removed confinement as a possible penalty for any coronavirus restrictions violations. The Texas Supreme Court ordered Luther's immediate release.
But Judge Moyé is hardly alone; he's actually something of a latecomer to the wave of local tyranny unleashed to counter unreasonable, silly and often unenforceable restrictive rules. Back in April, down in Laredo, Texas, local law enforcement conducted--no kidding--an undercover sting of black-market beauty service operations and arrested and jailed two female "criminals" for offering salon services at their homes.
From Hawaii to California to Ohio to North Carolina, people have faced charges and captivity for a variety of infractions ranging from having a party to going to the beach to protesting the legality of such restrictions.
Perspective is everything, as the saying goes.
Let's go back to Dallas County, for instance. In the weeks prior to Judge Moyé's jailing of Luther, district courts there had been releasing real criminals from jail in the name of safety. And Dallas has a lot of real criminals, including a sizable population of the violent variety. In 2018 (the latest year for official FBI data), there were 10,422 crimes of violence committed in the city of Dallas (population 1.35 million), including 155 murders. The murder count for 2019 was 210, the highest number in a decade.
As of Wednesday, Dallas County (population 2.64 million) has tested about 30,000 residents for covid-19, with 6,602 positive cases and 153 attributed deaths.
So while Dallas is on the low side of coronavirus mortality among cities, its violent crime rate spikes high: more dangerous than 93 percent of American metro areas. Its traffic fatality rate is fifth-worse in the nation among the top 25 cities. The smoking rate among adults in Dallas County is higher than the U.S. average, and so is its cancer death rate.
Would a year-round curfew cut down on violent crime? Undoubtedly. Would traffic and travel restrictions during certain hours on select roadways (half of Dallas' motor-vehicle deaths occur on only 8 percent of its roads) save lives? Absolutely. Would a Prohibition-style ban on cigarettes reduce smoking and affiliated cancer deaths? Most assuredly.
But such oppressive actions would also unacceptably curtail life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those declared rights are why neither Dallas nor any other city employs such restrictions in the name of protecting the people from themselves.
We decided as a people that the risks of liberty were better than security under tyranny when we revolted against England 243 years ago. Since then, we have also regularly decided that protecting and preserving those same liberties was worth fighting and dying for.
Everybody laments the loss of life associated with this pandemic, and anyone who discounts that universal sentiment as an arguing point over policy is being disingenuous.
Government doesn't always have all the answers, and doesn't always get things right. That was one of the primary contrasts separating the founders from their European peers: they had faith enough in the American populace to trust citizens' instincts on the responsibilities and requirements of self-government.
They deferred to We the People, and that is what has made all the difference. That, and not knee-jerk magisterial tyranny, is also what we should trust will make the difference now.
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.
Editorial on 05/15/2020