I often joke with my hairdresser Amanda about the number of state permits she requires for the privilege of cutting my hair. As I point out on page 49 of After America (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available, etc):
In the Fifties, one in twenty members of the workforce needed government permission in order to do his job. Today, it's one in three.
That's tyrannous - which is bad enough, albeit not unique to America: The entire developed world has massively expanded the hyper-regulatory state. But only in America does the Department of Paperwork command lethal force:
On August 19, 2010, two inspectors from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) visited the Strictly Skillz Barbershop in Orlando and found everything in order: All of the barbers working there were properly licensed, and all of the work stations complied with state regulations. Two days later, even though no violations had been discovered and even though the DBPR is authorized to conduct such inspections only once every two years, the inspectors called again, this time accompanied by "between eight and ten officers, including narcotics agents," who "rushed into" the barbershop "like [a] SWAT team." Some of them wore masks and bulletproof vests and had their guns drawn. Meanwhile, police cars blocked off the parking lot.
The officers ordered all the customers to leave, announcing that the shop was "closed down indefinitely." They handcuffed the owner, Brian Berry, and two barbers who rented chairs from him, then proceeded to search the work stations and a storage room. They demanded the barbers' driver's licenses and checked for outstanding warrants. One of the inspectors, Amanda Fields, asked for the same paperwork she had seen two days earlier, going through the motions of verifying (again) that the barbers were not cutting hair without a license (a second-degree misdemeanor). Finding no regulatory violations or contraband, the officers released Berry and the others after about an hour.
What sort of lunatic handcuffs a barber in order to check his license is valid? The gauleiter in question is Inspector Amanda Fields of Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation - and, in a sane world, she'd be the one in handcuffs. But, as far as I can tell, she still has her job. Judge Rosenbaum's opinion for the US 11th Circuit is unusually vivid:
It was a scene right out of a Hollywood movie. On August 21, 2010, after more than a month of planning, teams from the Orange County Sheriff's Office descended on multiple target locations. They blocked the entrances and exits to the parking lots so no one could leave and no one could enter. With some team members dressed in ballistic vests and masks, and with guns drawn, the deputies rushed into their target destinations, handcuffed the stunned occupants — and demanded to see their barbers' licenses. The Orange County Sheriff's Office was providing muscle for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation's administrative inspection of barbershops to discover licensing violations.
We first held nineteen years ago that conducting a run-of-the-mill administrative inspection as though it is a criminal raid, when no indication exists that safety will be threatened by the inspection, violates clearly established Fourth Amendment rights. See Swint v. City of Wadley , 51 F.3d 988 (11th Cir. 1995). We reaffirmed that principle in 2007 when we held that other deputies of the very same Orange County Sheriff's Office who participated in a similar warrantless criminal raid under the guise of executing an administrative inspection were not entitled to qualified immunity. See Bruce v. Beary , 498 F.3d 1232 (11th Cir. 2007). Today,we repeat that same message once again. We hope that the third time will be the charm.
I would doubt it. Amanda Fields and her chums feel no shame about what they did - which is the real problem. If a constable does not instinctively understand that there is something wrong - and, indeed, profoundly wicked - about a "license inspection" that involves handcuffing the barber, he's unlikely to be unduly disturbed by the possibility of a judicial slapdown four years hence, assuming that the rubes he's cuffing are savvy enough to take it that far. For a sense of the esprit of the Florida regulatory environment, consider the words of one officer to barber Reginald Trammon:
When Trammon argued to one of the officers that he had done nothing wrong, the officer responded, " It's a pretty big book, I'm pretty sure I can find something in here to take you to jail for."
Indeed. As Laura Rosen Cohen comments:
Let's recap a few basics.
The police are YOUR employees.
Your employees are pointing loaded guns at you and raiding your homes in military style.
That's a problem.
Where's the so-called "party of small government" on this? Because, whatever else may be said about a regime that dispatches a Swat team to check barbering licenses, small government it's not. You can't complain about big, bloated, out-of-control government, and then make an exception when Hair Team Six wants to check Kelli-Sue's curling permit.
~The results of the Scottish independence referendum are due in a few hours. I said a few words on the subject here, and dusted off a rather prescient 17-year-old column of mine here, and added a postscript on contemporary Scottish identity here. On Wednesday's John Oakley show in Toronto, I said my best guess would be a narrow victory for the "no" side, which would be just enough to make the issue a permanent and destabilizing feature of British political life, as Quebec's secessionist shakedown operation is for Canada.