Thursday, August 18, 2016

When governments violate minimum wages AND the 24th Amendment

In the past, I have written about minimum wage laws, living wage laws, and exceptions to the same for prisoners in Colorado and California. In those two cases, the argument is that prisoners do not deserve minimum wages because they are criminals, so therefore the state is justified in paying sub-minimum wages.

But what of law-abiding citizens? A recent court case in the state of Washington (hotbed of living wage activity) makes an interesting argument:

King County's $10-per-day reimbursement for mileage or travel hasn't changed since 1959, lead plaintiff Ryan Rocha says in the complaint in Pierce County Court.

He says the low pay effectively prevents minorities and poor people from participating in jury service.

A Seattle worker earning minimum wage would make $104 for an eight-hour day, and all minimum-wage workers in Washington earn at least $75 for eight hours....

The other named plaintiff, Catherine Selin, served on a jury for 11 days last year, and also worked for an employer that did not compensate her. She says King County violated the state's minimum wage act by not paying her.

So basically law-abiding citizens are denied minimum wage if their employer doesn't pay for jury duty. (It should be noted that government employees usually get paid for jury duty, so they themselves don't suffer.) Basically, it would be a financial hardship to employers if the state mandated that all employers offer paid jury leave - just as it would be a financial hardship to the state to pay living wages to jurors.

But that's not the interesting part.

Their attorney Jeffrey Needle said in a statement: "Citizens aren't required to give up their incomes in order to vote, and they shouldn't have to do so with jury service either."

But what does voting, an activity that takes less than an hour, have to do with jury service, an activity that could take a week or more?

A lot, actually, according to The Straight Dope:

[T]he Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems...argues that because most states link voter registration with jury service, jury duty basically constitutes a poll tax: it’s effectively a fee for casting a ballot. Citizens know they’ll be put on a jury list if they register to vote; some know they can’t afford to miss work to sit on a jury; therefore they don’t register, and subsequently can’t vote.

OK, a poll tax - so what? It's not like that's illegal or anything. Well, in this U.S. election season in which we're paying attention to the 1st, 2nd, and other amendments, let's take a look at the 24th:

“Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.”

“Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

In a classic example of unintended consequences, the amendment gained passage because of the disenfranchisement practices of evil southern states that conspired to deny the vote to blacks.

But if the Columbia Journal's argument is correct, the amendment could also be used against the disenfranchisement practices of all states that discourage voting by paying low jury duty rates.

Yes, even in the state that has a county (re)named after Martin Luther King, Jr.
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