Some aren’t more equal than others

In our recent editorial about the George Zimmerman case we briefly discussed the concept of “due process.” As of the Pine Bluff City Council’s most recent meeting, we have a much more local situation that further clarifies the matter. In specific, we refer to Alderman Glen Brown’s assertion that he had been “targeted” by the city’s Inspection and Zoning Department pursuant to the condemnation of a house he owns at 1614 South Lee Street.

Brown remarked that the speed with which inspections had condemned the structure was unduly fast. While the process may have been more rapid than Brown desired, the structure clearly shows signs of long-term decline.

Inspection and Zoning Department Director Robert Tucker has a different view: “My staff does not target people,” Tucker said Tuesday. “My staff is subjected to a lot of scrutiny by the public. They’re extremely careful and considerate in carrying out their duties. They have bent over backward in trying to work together with everyone.”

Brown’s responses were contradictory: “I don’t want anything special and I don’t want to be treated special. All I ask is to be treated fairly.”

That stands in direct conflict with his subsequent statement: “This is an heir property. There ought to be some provisions for that.”

So, in effect, he does want special treatment because he inherited the dismal property. Unlike some of the newer blood in city government, it’s clear that Brown’s attachment to the old “special rules for special people” mode of business is still firmly in place.

All this gets to a larger question of due process. There are a couple of different dimension of due process that bear consideration here.

In the first instance there’s procedural due process. The governing question here is whether the procedures used to arrive at the decision were clear and evenly applied. The alleged celerity of the Inspection Department’s process is the hook upon which Brown hangs his complaint.

Because the process was overly quick (in Brown’s estimation) he believes the outcome was tainted. He infers — incorrectly, we believe — that he was targeted by Inspections. He seems to conveniently forget that the objective condition of the house was sufficient on face to warrant condemnation.

Then there’s substantive due process. This aspect of due process asks whether the procedures were constitutionally permissible. Further, substantive due process asks whether the laws are clear and whether they are sufficiently narrow so as to avoid abuse by the state.

By any rational standard, both aspects of due process were afforded Brown. Once the demands of due process have been satisfied, the next question arises, and it is one that has dogged litigants since the early days of the Magna Carta (ca. 1215 AD): Process versus outcomes.

Here’s the real crux of Brown’s situation. As a general rule, we are inclined to think a process is corrupt if the outcome doesn’t go our way. We seem to have a deep-seated need to believe we are “right” in some absolutist sense. Therefore, any process that doesn’t yield the desired result must be flawed. This is tantamount to “killing the messenger.” Only in this case the “messenger” is Lady Justice.

Brown may not like the outcome, but the process certainly appears to be fair. Perhaps the real thing digging at him is that his position didn’t get him a little more fairness than others might expect. Laws aren’t about deference to office. They aren’t about deference to wealth or race or station. They are about the creation of clear objective standards which we must all abide.

There are plenty of other places in the world that can’t say that. Those other places also tend to have less tolerance for churlish behavior.