by Terry Schilling
This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.
For years, the government’s answer to almost every problem has been to impose regulations. But while bureaucrats see such rules as a necessary way to protect citizens, they are blind to the fact that these regulations violate Americans’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law, by allowing government to favor some groups over others.
In her Liberty Minute titled “Hot Air in Houston,” Helen Krieble provides a perfect example of a local government picking winners and losers — and the response of citizens when confronted by this reality:
We often see giant balloons advertising car dealers or special promotions at the mall. In Houston, local leaders decided there were too many balloons. They passed a law allowing the balloons only for car dealers, not for any other business. But other business owners looked through the lens of liberty, and told the city it had no business picking winners and losers. Citizens reminded officials that equal treatment under the law is America’s first principle.
The city still didn’t get it: instead of choosing freedom, they responded by banning all balloons in Houston. Many government officials simply cannot think outside the confines of government rules. That’s why citizens of the South must be the ultimate defenders of freedom and pop this balloon.
Big government thrives when its constituents are unaware of or apathetic toward excessive regulations. Thankfully, Houston’s citizens were well aware of their government’s overregulation culture and insisted on their right to equal protection.
Of course, many more instances of this can be found nationwide. For example, let’s consider another recent similar case, also in Texas, where the state attempted to protect local liquor stores at others’ expense.
Publicly-traded businesses have long been barred from selling hard liquor or even from owning their own liquor stores in the Lone Star State. The purpose of ban is clear: to protect the local liquor stores from outside competition. As with the city of Houston, this Texas law clearly involves the state government in picking winners and losers.
Fortunately, those affected by this rule did not go away quietly. Retailers challenged the law, and in March, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled in favor of the retailers. The Texas Package Stores Association, a special interest group consisting of owners of local liquor stores, now plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court.
Sadly, the problem of special interests using big government to undermine their competition is all too common. When government gets in the business of picking winners and losers, it violates the basic constitutional principle of equal protection and allows interest groups to buy their success instead of competing in a free market. To end this state of affairs, citizens must be willing to follow the lead of the retailers in Texas and challenge the status quo which denies them their rights. We must restore a culture within government of protecting the Constitution so that regulations like the ones in Texas are not implemented in the first place.
Photo credit: Nicolas Henderson via Flickr, CC BY 2.0