Guest by post by Bob Unruh
This article originally appeared on WND.com
Agencies sued for violating the constitution pull out at the last minute
It’s a tactic that’s actually been seen over and over: A government agency gets sued for one of its practices, and just before a court ruling comes, it backs down, or has the practice changed somehow.
The case then goes away, with or without a court decision favorable to the plaintiffs. But the governmental entity insists it does not owe attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs, a standard practice in such cases, because it reversed course before the decision.
But now an appeals court is holding a governmental body accountable anyway, and has ordered those fees to be paid.
Officials with the Rutherford Institute say the 7-4 decision came in Stinnie V. Holcomb. There, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and said the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles cannot escape paying those costs.
“If the government is allowed to avoid the financial liabilities associated with violating the Constitution, it will violate the Constitution for as long as it can get away with it,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of “Battlefield America: The War on the American People.”
“Such a practice cripples the ability of the citizenry, especially the poor and vulnerable, to effectively seek protection from the courts and hold the government accountable.”
The case focused on a state law that penalized drivers for failing to pay court fines and costs, which “often have nothing to do with road safety or driving infractions.”
After the fight developed, the state adopted legislation overturning the practice, a move that took place before the case reached its conclusion in court.
Because of that, the DMV demanded that it could not be required to pay the attorneys’ fees for the winning side.
“A legal coalition including The Rutherford Institute, warned that allowing the DMV to avoid fiscal accountability would encourage further constitutional mischief by the government,” the report said.
The appeals court agreed, and said governmental decision-makers were now allowed to “game the system” that way.
“Damian Stinnie was among more than 900,000 people who had their driver’s licenses automatically suspended by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) under a state law that penalizes drivers for failing to pay court fines and costs which often have nothing to do with road safety or driving infractions,” the institute reported.
“In July 2016, a lawsuit was filed against the DMV, alleging that the automatic suspensions violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.
The complaint charged that many people lost their licenses through being too poor to pay fines, “effectively depriving them of reliable, lawful transportation necessary to get to and from work, take children to school, keep medical appointments, care for ill or disabled family members, or, paradoxically, to meet their financial obligations to the courts,” Rutherford explained.
The state’s decision to drop the program came shortly before a preliminary injunction was issued from a district court that banned the practice.
The government, “attempting to avoid any legal consequences for its constitutional violations … insisted that since the issue was resolved through legislation rather than a final court-ruling against the DMV, the government could not be required to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys for their time working on the case,” the report said.
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