Recently I argued on this website that the “privilege” of operating a business isn’t a privilege but a right – and that therefore neither local nor state governments have a right to tax me for exercising it. (Several recently bills introduced in the General Assembly, by the way, refer to the ownership of a business as a “privilege” – this one, for example.)
In case you missed it, though, I was issued a ticket/summons by the City of Clemson for working without a business license – that is, without permission.
The Clemson ordinance requiring individuals to obtain a license to engage in a constitutionally protected right is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that this is unconstitutional, as I argued back in October.
Anyhow, I notified city officials that their ordinance was invalid according to the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court, and that I would not comply. They held a trial in my absence and convicted me of the “crime” of exercising my right to work. A fine of $500 was handed down. I appealed to the circuit court, and the hearing was held on Feb. 2 at the Pickens County Courthouse. When the Clemson city attorney did not show up for the hearing, the judge was visibly upset. He reversed the municipal court judgement and dismissed the case.
I won by default.
Was this a victory for me? Yes and no. I didn’t have to pay a fine, but the ordinance still stands. Perhaps the city attorney didn’t want to risk having the ordinance declared unconstitutional, and therefore chose to lose by default. I can still pursue a lawsuit against the city for deprivation of rights, and I am considering filing such a lawsuit. But, as you may know if you’ve ever tried to force your government to acknowledge its own constitution, these things cost money.
John Dalen, a resident of Westminster, has been a general contractor and business owner for over 30 years.