Paul Jacob

Unfortunately, the judge saw none of this. He saw the legitimate activity of these citizens as some sort of abuse of “power.” And he sought to redress an imbalance. $2000 per citizen activist would send the right, chilling message, he thought.

Fear and intimidation too often work. From my own case in Oklahoma, I know that even the unsuccessful prosecution of a case against citizen activists can cause other citizens to think twice, thrice, or more, about taking on the Powers That Be.

Thankfully, the story does not end there.

First, Assembly Delegates Tom Gear and Harvey Morgan and Senator Thomas K. Norment have submitted bills to prohibit judges from penalizing activists who petition to remove officials. Gear characterized the Gloucester activists as “laymen . . . doing what they thought was the right thing to do.” He characterized the judge’s ruling “as a kind of intimidation.”

On Friday, the House passed Morgan’s bill, 93-3.

Second, the Gloucester activists have found support from the ACLU, which has declared that it will write a friend-of-the-court brief on their behalf. The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression will assist.

This is not merely a local issue. It obviously affects all Virginians. And the situation reflects what many citizens face throughout the union.

In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, for instance, a fight over a firehouse led to voters petitioning to decide the issue themselves. As I explained in my daily Common Sense radio program, the mayor didn’t do the right thing. He didn’t take to the stump for his cause in an open vote. Instead, he fought and blocked the petition in court. And he got a judge to grant the town government legal fees . . . from the main activist, Denise Carey.

Fortunately, Ms. Carey appealed her case, and won. She also won damages in a federal court case against the city.

It is good to see justice triumphing on appeal. But it would be better if politicians and judges didn’t conspire to overthrow normal democratic (and republican) practice in the first place. We do not serve them, they serve us; if we, the citizens, want them gone, we have legal means at our disposal. Or, should have.

And politicians and judges should not seek to block citizens from using these means. Threats, official reprisals? These are the tools of tyrants. Public servants, on the hand, serve at our discretion. Any idea to the contrary must be opposed on principle. The suppression of democracy “should not happen in America” . . . to quote one of the oppressors. 

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.