I particularly dislike the majority's heavy reliance on an 1886 Mississippi Supreme Court decision(Ex Parte Wren). Wren was a traveling salesman from Louisiana who was arrested in Jackson for showing goods and taking orders on behalf of a New Orleans company (Philip Laal) without paying a newly enacted State tax of $25 "on each person traveling and selling goods or merchandise by sample or otherwise in this State". Wren argued that the law was not passed by both houses of the Mississippi Legislature. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that it didn't matter. The law was presumptively good.In comments at his post, I've asked Philip to provide the cut-off year after which precedents of the Mississippi Supreme Court may be followed. Other questions may arise. Can the presumption that any Miss. Supreme Court decision was racist be rebutted? Are there other character flaws or historical facts that will also serve to invalidate precedents?
The problem I have with the majority's reliance on Wren is the historical context of Mississippi in 1886. This falls squarely into the period when whites were passing laws to disenfranchise blacks following the end of Reconstruction. In addition to disenfranchisement laws, the whites in power were murdering scores of black citizens in order to restore white supremacy. It was a corrupt and lawless time in the State of Mississippi. The Mississippi Supreme Court did not equally enforce the law. Nobody did until the federal government stepped in in the 1960's. Of course the Mississippi Attorney General argued in favor of the arrest in Wren, he would have been in on what was going on in the State.
With all due respect for the Court, this 1886 opinion by the Mississippi Supreme Court should be given little, if any, precedent authority. The case upheld a bogus-sounding tax (approx. $600 in today's dollars) on an out-of-state salesman. The effect of the tax and the Court's ruling was probably going to be to run the New Orleans grocer out of Mississippi. And the law wasn't even passed by the Legislature? In 1886? The very year that Mississippi disenfranchised blacks? Is that just a big coincidence? How can we trust that Wren was an honest legitimate decision?
In 1886 white power brokers inside Mississippi were consolidating their power and running off (or worse) anyone who got in their way. People like Wren were viewed as carpetbaggers who were taking money out of the pockets of local businessmen. I'm guessing that the Wren tax was not enforced on local Mississippi salesmen. I'm guessing it was a corrupt tax that was selectively enforced.
Bottom line is that Wren sounds real fishy. Given the year that Wren was decided and Mississippi's political climate at the time, it can't be trusted as an honest decision. It has no place in a 2012 opinion. Ironically, the Court uses Wren to support upholding pardons that many people feel were suspect.
Monday, March 12, 2012
Like many folks, Philip Thomas did not care for the pardons ruling last week. But he has come up with a creative reason why the Court was mistaken:
Thus blogged Anderson ... on or about Monday, March 12, 2012