Power to Rule

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Column by Paul Hein.

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Jurisdiction! What an important concept! My law dictionary gives a multitude of definitions, such as “authority, power, or right to act,” or “power to subject parties to decisions and rules.” The role of power is implicit, if not explicit, in every definition. Whence comes this power? Another definition: “power conferred by constitution or law.” 

What is not clearly stated is who has this power, but the identity of the powerful is easily determined. To whom are you subject? Who has authority over you? Whether it is the policeman who stops you at a “checkpoint,” or a local alderman, or a building inspector, such persons can be lumped together under one term: government. These people--government--are the ones with power conferred by the Constitution or laws.

But wait a minute! The Constitution confers very little power on the Rulers—the people of government. It certainly doesn’t authorize most of the things they do every day. Besides, the Constitution is little more than a joke, anyway. An acquaintance once pointed out to a Missouri senator that the Constitution forbade any state from making anything but gold and silver coins a legal tender. “Really,” the senator asked. “It really says that?” Well yes, it does, but nobody who has taken an oath to obey the Constitution pays any heed, even if he is aware of what he has sworn to. And the definition includes power “conferred by . . . law.” That’s all very good, but the organization--the people--claiming power over me pursuant to law are the same group that wrote the law. 

Jurisdiction, it is said, is territorial. It spread out from the seat of power like maggots on a wound, until it meets power from another group, establishing an imaginary line, or boundary. The Rulers are of the opinion (their opinions are “the law”) that if you live within the boundaries of their realm, you are subject to them. If you live in Missouri, and don’t want to be subject to its current crop of Rulers, you can cross the boundary into, say, Nebraska, or Tennessee, thus escaping their jurisdiction. Upon doing so, you will instantly fall under the jurisdiction of the Rulers of those states. Now since everyone has to be someplace, there seems to be no escape from the jurisdiction of one group of Rulers or another.

Something is wrong here. Let’s go back to that definition of jurisdiction: “power conferred by constitution or law.” I have a copy of the Missouri constitution at hand, and Article 1, Section 1 states that “all political power is vested in and derived from the people.” If that were to be taken seriously (of course, it isn’t!) it would mean that jurisdiction inheres in the individual Missourian. Would those noble Rulers who swore fidelity to the constitution admit that they swore falsely? They would never admit that, or that they swore without knowing what they were swearing to. So how could they deny that I have jurisdiction? 

I look down at my shoes. They occupy perhaps one to two square feet of space. Is that my area of jurisdiction? If I find myself before a judge who has just told me that I am under his jurisdiction, could I point out that I have my own area of jurisdiction, and I am standing in, or on, it? Sure I could, and after the judge stopped laughing, he would proceed as if I were subject to him, instead of vice-versa.

At one time it was held that a man’s home was his castle. Today it’s only his castle as long as he pays tribute yearly to its real owners. His castle can be invaded at any time by “law enforcement,” if there’s even a suggestion—ill-founded or not--that he’s doing something offensive to the Rulers. So where is jurisdiction? Is there anyplace where myjurisdiction exists? 
It’s a sobering thought. I have no jurisdiction, authority, or power, not even over the few square feet of earth I occupy. My body itself is theirs to control and regulate. My thoughts are still my own, but should I express them, and the Rulers find them offensive, I can be punished.

Things are upside-down. The very people who claim power over me, and dismiss as absurd, or frivolous, any challenge to that claim, have sworn an oath that all “power is vested in and derived from the people.” To cap the climax, the Rulers piously refer to themselves as “public servants.” 

I’m tempted to think that the Rulers regard us as sheep, and, among themselves, laugh at our docility. But perhaps that’s giving them more credit—for thinking about who they are and what they do--than they deserve.

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