A message from Karen Budd-Falen: Federal Government Bullying and Rural Cleansing – Your Chance to Make a Difference
by Caren Cowan
I looked up the definition of “bully” in the dictionary. It read, “a blustering browbeating person; especially: one habitually cruel to others who are weaker.” While I certainly would not characterize every child in a school-yard as a bully, nor every person working for the federal government as abusive, there are some individuals who fit that description. They may be the exception, but the label still fits.
The problem is that while there are actions you can take to stop a school-yard bully, there are NO actions you can take to stop a bureaucratic bully. We must get Congress to change that paradigm. I am asking for your help.
On October 29, 2013, a group of ranchers are going to testify before a Congressional Committee, telling their stories of being targeted and bullied by federal government employees simply based upon their ownership and use of private property and private property rights. The result is not only harm to the individual, but a “cleansing” of rural America as the free-market system fails. Their stories are compelling, and on October 29, will be told to Congress and the Nation. But we want to tell your stories too. At the end of this request, I will let you know how to help.
In 1871, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. The Act allows private citizens to bring litigation against individual state and local government employees who, “under the color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage” cause that citizen the loss of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the U.S. Constitution and U.S. laws. The Civil Rights Act did not create any new rights. Rather, the Act permits individuals to sue state and local public officials in the federal district court for alleged Constitutional and statutory bullying.
Yet this same remedy is not available against federal government officers who, “under the color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage,” cause a citizen the loss of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the U.S. Constitution and U.S. laws. This gaping omission was highlighted in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Wilkie v. Robbins, 551 U.S. 537, 577 (2007). In that case, although the Supreme Court recognized that certain federal employees may have harmed and harassed landowner Frank Robbins because Robbins would not voluntarily surrender his property rights to the federal government, the Court refused to allow Robbins access to the federal courts to even plead his case. However, the Justices also noted that the Congress could (and should) create a legal “cause of action” in the federal courts for those cases where federal employees use and abuse the “color of their office” to harass or bully someone for standing up for their Constitutionally protected rights.
The purpose of the October 29, 2013 hearing is to tell these stories to Congress and the American people and urge Congress to allow access to the courts for America’s citizens who are suffering long-continued harassment and harm at the hands of individual federal employees. That is not to say that all adverse government decisions are always politically or personally motivated, nor does it guarantee that private citizens will always win, but as it is now, the courthouse door is shut and locked and access is completely denied. That is the problem that has to be fixed–private citizens should have the right to access the courts, so that judges and juries can decide those claims with merit.
Based upon the Robbins Supreme Court opinion, other private property owners who are being harassed and intimidated because they refuse to turn over their private property outside the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution have no forum in which they can vindicate their claims. The Robbins decision is a complete bar to the judicial branch of the government, regardless of the extreme nature of the federal officials’ actions.
The second aspect of this story is the destruction of free-markets and rural economies and communities because there is a void in the protection of private property ownership, use and rights. Secure use of private property rights is the cornerstone of a free-market economic system, but that security is threatened by government official interference under “color of law.” Voluntary exchange and free markets depend on private property ownership and use, since every participant in a free-market system is a property owner who must be responsible for himself and his possessions. This holds true whether the private property is land, other property rights and interests, tangible goods, ideas, or the person himself. Yet, with no access to the courts against federal employees who use their office to hamper private property use and ownership, the free-market system and economic fabric of rural communities are being destroyed. Private property ownership encourages the development and use resources in a way that is advantageous and can be traded or sold to others. Private ownership makes people accountable for their actions.
But in many cases, that is not the way it works now. Because there is no method to require personal accountability of federal employees who use the power of their federal agency to violate our Constitutional guarantees, property owners are being forced to severely limit their businesses, and in some cases, lose their property and livelihoods altogether. These losses, particularly in rural communities and economies, translate to lost economic revenue, lost jobs and lost opportunities, which, in turn, translates to lost community services such as fire protection, deteriorating roads and vacant schools. Rural cleansing is occurring in America as those who rely on the use of their property are forced to relinquish their rights and move to more urban settings in search of jobs.
It is time for Congress to act to provide a legal cause of action when federal bureaucrats use the power of their offices to violate our U.S. Constitutional guarantees. That process will start with the hearing on October 29, 2013. If you have a story involving federal bullying and harm, I encourage you to send your information to email@example.com. With your permission, we will take these stories to Washington D.C. and present them with the stories of those attending the hearing. This is a chance for you to tell Congress if you have been the subject of selective and continued harassment and pressure to give up your Constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Not all federal employees are bullies and some counties and communities are still clinging to the rural way of life. But for the victims of the bullies and the communities who suffer, Congress must provide access to the judicial system for a chance for relief. Please help us get the message to Congress; send your stories of bullying or letters and e-mails of support to firstname.lastname@example.org
New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association
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