Supreme Court Announces Blutarsky Doctrine In Equal Protection Cases

Law, Politics & Current Events

From Radley Balko and Scott Greenfield comes the heartwarming tale of Florida Circuit Judge Joseph Will, who, while bound by Supreme Court precedent that the Constitution allows the police to lie to a citizen to gain entry to the citizen's home, is unwilling to take the word of an admitted liar.

The facts are simple enough. The Daytona Beach police department received an anonymous tip of drug activity at the home of the defendant. Two officers knocked at the door and were greeted by the defendant's elderly mother. An officer told her that they were there because of a "911 disconnect" and asked permission to enter the home to ensure the safety of the inhabitants.

You can guess the rest.  The officer testified that of course the mother allowed him to ransack the defendant's dresser drawers, where he found drugs.  The mother disagreed.

The parties agree that the search of the drawer was illegal if it was conducted without the consent of the mother. They also agree that the law actually permitted the officer to lie to the defendant's mother to gain access to the home. The defendant argues, though, that the police officer has significantly damaged his credibility by telling this lie. He urges the court to believe his mother – not the police officer – regarding the purported consent to search. If the court believes his mother to be the more credible of the two, the evidence must be suppressed.

What's astonishing is that the court took the mother's word over the officer's.  The judge actually believed the word of an unimpeached citizen of good character, rather than that of an admitted liar wearing a blue uniform.  This never happens.

In other words, the judge acknowledged that the officer is free to tell as many lies as he can when not under oath, but that doesn't mean the judge has to believe him when he is under oath.  Hosanna!  The system works!  Your faith in government is justified.

Or is it?  My joy on reading of one judge's rebellion against one of the most cynical rules our courts follow was deflated on reading this morning's decision by a higher court, the same United States Supreme Court that held it's perfectly acceptable for officers to lie and cheat to gain entry to your home, in which the Court held forth on what I'll call the Blutarsky doctrine.

"Hey man, you fucked up. You trusted us." – Senator John Blutarsky.

The taxpaying citizens of Indianapolis trusted their government to treat them fairly. Not only that, they trusted the Highest Court In The Land to treat them fairly.

They fucked up big time.

Back in 2001, the city of Indianapolis decided that it was going to install sewer lines in the Brisbane / Manning neighborhood, with or without the owners' consent.

In 2004 each of the Brisbane / Manning homeowners got a bill (a "tax" for the Court's purposes), for the cost of the new lines.  Each was given the option to pay the "tax" up front as a lump sum, or to pay by installments up to thirty years with interest. Some paid up front, others took the installment plan.

In 2005 the city decided to change its bookkeeping procedures.  The lucky homeowners who'd chosen the installment plan were told, because it would be a hassle to keep billing them under the old plan, that their "taxes" were forgiven. They would only have to pay one thirtieth of what their neighbors paid.

The unlucky homeowners, who'd paid up front, asked for a pro rata refund.  The city's response?

Hey man, you fucked up.  You trusted us.

Stung by the unfairness of a tax system where John Doe could be required to pay thirty times the amount paid by Jane Roe, the citizen-suckers sued.  They took it all the way to the Supreme Court.  And this morning, Justice Breyer, writing for himself and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, delivered the Court's opinion:

Hey man, you fucked up. You trusted us.

The Court explained that even horrendously unfair tax schemes, in which one man can be required to pay thirty times what his neighbor pays for the same service, do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment so long as there is a rational basis for the government to discriminate.

The city offered several rational bases for keeping the money:  first, that it had already been spent; second, that they just adopted this new billing system and it would be a major pain to cut refund checks for the suckers affected citizens; and third, that if Indianapolis had to give refunds to the folks in Barrett, other homeowners in other neighborhoods might want their money back.  It was therefore rational, the city argued, for Indianapolis to deny refunds to citizens who'd taken the city at its word that the full tax would be collected because:

Hey man, they fucked up.  They trusted us.

So celebrate all you want, prole, at your little triumph.  A drug dealer got off scot-free because some bleeding heart liberal activist judicial tyrant refused to take the word of a sworn officer of the law.  But remember that in Washington, where the policy gets made, it's considered perfectly rational for the government to lie to you, and to cheat you, at every opportunity.

Because hey man, you keep fucking up. You trust them.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. radar  •  Jun 4, 2012 @11:35 am

    Cmon, man, that was Otter's line, not Bluto's! How can I take the rest of your post seriously when you err in this most basic of facts?

  2. shg  •  Jun 4, 2012 @11:41 am

    Seriously. Did you even see Animal House?

  3. joe schmoe  •  Jun 4, 2012 @11:44 am

    I think it was Otter who said "you fucked up, you trusted us"

  4. Patrick  •  Jun 4, 2012 @11:48 am

    Hey man, you fucked up. You trusted me.

  5. Ken  •  Jun 4, 2012 @11:54 am

    You beat me to this one.

    But you took it in a entirely different direction than I was going to. I was going to focus on the contemptible and yet spectacular entitled butthurt of the police chief, who is furious that anyone would call his liars liars.

  6. Patrick  •  Jun 4, 2012 @11:55 am

    He probably deserves a post of his own.

  7. David  •  Jun 4, 2012 @11:58 am

    But his officers use deception! That's no more lying than kicking a suspect in the head thirty times is assault!

  8. TJIC  •  Jun 4, 2012 @12:01 pm

    > Hey man, you fucked up. You trusted us.

    How much longer until it's ethical to start shooting?

  9. Secular Absolutist  •  Jun 4, 2012 @1:37 pm

    That was a surprisingly well written and well thought out decision. Volusia County is a better place having this judge in it's courthouse. Without a doubt, Judge Will carefully and thoroughly considered this decision. The defense attorney Scott Swain is terrific too. He posed the question in the finest possible way. A public defender no-less!

    RE: Chief Chitwood

    To paraphrase a famous poet, he can snort my taint. The judge did not impugn the integrity of his officers. They did that just fine all on their own.

    Hey cops, if you value your integrity, use it in such a manner as to protect it. Just because it is legal doesn't make it right.

  10. Scott Jacobs  •  Jun 4, 2012 @2:03 pm

    Had the cops just used the deception to LOOK, that would have been one thing.

    But opening up drawers crossed a line – they either needed a warrant or explicit permission.

    And why DIDN'T they get a warrant? Could they seriously not find a judge that would rubber stamp a "we totally got a tip about drugs in this house"-based search warrant?

    They must really suck at bullshitting judges.

  11. mojo  •  Jun 4, 2012 @2:09 pm

    Never trust anybody who lies for a living.

    Common sense, really.

  12. Secular Absolutist  •  Jun 4, 2012 @2:16 pm

    @mojo – truer words are hard to find!

  13. Jeff  •  Jun 4, 2012 @2:25 pm

    Patrick,
    I don't know why you are railing against the Supreme Court decision. Admittedly Brisbane's operators are idiots, but that wasn't the question. The question was whether idiocy was Unconstitutional. The Supreme Court simply said that, no, you're allowed to elect idiots to run your cities and you get what you get. That seems fair to me. :-)
    Jeff

  14. TJIC  •  Jun 4, 2012 @2:39 pm

    @Scott Jacobs:

    > And why DIDN'T they get a warrant?

    Why should they? They weren't investigating a real person (i.e. fellow cop). They were just setting up a perp. [ That's a joke, of course. Cops almost never investigate fellow cops. ]

    Also, what's the downside? Judges know that cops routinely lie under oath, and yet do nothing about it. So if it makes life one iota easier, skip the warrant.

  15. ShelbyC  •  Jun 4, 2012 @2:49 pm

    Not seeing the problem here. Didn't the people who chose to pay in full "fuck up" because they failed to anticipate an event that would make it uneconomical to bill people in installments. An understandable fuck-up, to be sure, but still a fuck-up. Them's the breaks, right? Some days you're the baby, some days you're the diaper.

  16. Secular Absolutist  •  Jun 4, 2012 @2:52 pm

    @ShelbyC

    or…. life is like a shit sandwich. Some days you get a double decker.

  17. Grifter  •  Jun 4, 2012 @4:40 pm

    The chief's response about the difference between deception and lying reminds me of another quote from another classic:

    J. Blues: "You lied to me"
    E. Blues: "It wasn't lies, it was just…bullshit"

  18. Personanongrata  •  Jun 4, 2012 @4:56 pm

    Because hey man, you keep fucking up. You trust them.

    Say it again.

  19. bobby  •  Jun 4, 2012 @6:12 pm

    Seems that this is an education for the masses. Long-Term payment option with NO interest versus FULL payment upfront … hmmm … lemme think about that one …

    Any chance to starve the beast, I'm gonna take it.

  20. John David Galt  •  Jun 4, 2012 @7:40 pm

    In my copy, neither Bluto nor Otter spoke those words. D-day did.

  21. SPQR  •  Jun 4, 2012 @7:58 pm

    John David Galt, not in the special, Director's Sooper Dooper edition.

  22. TJIC  •  Jun 4, 2012 @8:32 pm

    @ShelbyC:

    > Not seeing the problem here. Them's the breaks, right?

    By this logic, some people get raped with broom handles, and no real problem, because them's the breaks, right?

    I'm not sure I like a normative ethical model where "whatever the government chooses to do, the government is allowed to do" is the central axiom.

  23. ShelbyC  •  Jun 4, 2012 @9:52 pm

    @TJIC, As much as a tax bill can sometims feel like getting raped with a broom handle, I think you're missing the "normative ethical model". The model isn't "whatever the government chooses to do, the government is allowed to do". You just made that up. The model is, whenever the government treats people differently, it must have a rational basis for doing so. And here, the government isn't making people pay different amounts of taxes because, say, they're black, or even because they bought their houses at different times. They're treating people differently for a perfectly legitimate reason: Due to unforeseen issues relating to the bookkeeping system, it has become uneconomical to collect taxes from people who chose the installment plan.
    Heck, if they had to refund the money to the people who had already paid in full, it might have made sense to pony up the extra money to allow the bookkeeping system to collect taxes from the installment plan people, even at a loss. And the last thing we want is to give the governement more encouagement to engage in inefficient behavior, right?

  24. Bret  •  Jun 4, 2012 @10:51 pm

    Justice Roberts dissenting:

    The reason we have rejected this argument is obvious: The Equal Protection Clause does not provide that no State shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, unless it’s too much of a bother.”

    Awesome.

  25. Josh  •  Jun 5, 2012 @7:42 am

    @Bret:

    Jesus Tapdancing Christ. I agree with C.J. Roberts on something…WTF is this world coming to?

  26. Tam  •  Jun 5, 2012 @7:59 am

    Et tu, Clarence?

  27. perlhaqr  •  Jun 5, 2012 @10:49 am

    Or as the folks in H&R would put it: "Fuck you, that's why."