Before complaining that certain agents of government including the Supreme Court have lost their minds, let me say I share the general correct respect for our courts, the Supreme Court in particular.
And we all well know that some considerations bind a court, while other aspects of a case are off-limits to that court. Among other things, a national court must consider the authority of local governments, for the Supreme Court is not altogether free to proclaim either sanity or justice for a number of contentions that arise locally.
All the same, the upshot of the law is that a city may require its servants or employes to live within the city limits. There are many arguments why this should be so, all of them wrong.
Why should not a District fireman live in Prince George's County or Gaithersburg or Falls Church?
There is a cardinal distinction between the right of a city to hire its own citizens for a city job, and the rule that it cannot hire anybody else.
Cut it any way you please, it is wrong to tell a fireman or a cop he cannot live in the suburbs.
In certain important nations, South Africa and the Soviet Union among them, the government is concerned to say who may live where. And yet those societies do not seem yet brilliant that we ought to emulate them in all policies.
How great a step is it, from saying a city employe must live in the District, to saying a person may not live in the District since he is not needed here?
I do not say that by Halloween next we face a police state of substantial tyranny, but I think it is clear to all that every chipping at the foundations of freedom ought to be resisted firmly and promptly.
I cannot think of any right more sacred, if you please, than the right of a District fireman to live wherever he wishes, and to get hired wherever he can.
The government, of all institutions, ought to be the last, not the first, to venture into the business of where people may live and not live.
It may be argued truthfully that nobody has an absolute right to be a District fireman, and that the District has the authority to set requirements. American cities generally are lucky that firemen, for example, are by and large superb citizens. Almost all of them, I suspect, would pass a Uniform Herometer Test. And yet a city government must care a great deal more for the quality of the man than for his street address. Whatever the requirements of a fireman may be, it is patent folly to include his address among them.
I wonder if, in South Africa and in Russia, there was a time in which residency rules and requirements were tried tentatively. There is nothing tentative about them now, as a good many million blacks have discovered in South Africa alone.
And while we are all ritually horrified at that, we do not seem much concerned at residency requirements for government employment here.
We do not, of course, have a state constitution since we are not a state. There is no specific reference in the U.S. Constitution to where a citizen lives or may live. Nobody ever dreamed the question would ever come up.
However ingenious, or however stupid, the arguments may be, no government in America should presume to put any barrier on where a man lives.
I know that such requirements may not offend new immigrants, unfamiliar with the course of American freedom or the price it has cost, and I know it may not seem important to those who never look beyond their own temporary budget problems. But here we have the nose of a camel peering gently and softly into the tent, and a certain vigor (as those who know camels best will testify) is a correct response to it. It is not correct to say well, yes, it may seem in some way to restrict a fireman, but we're not firemen, and besides we ought to spend city tax money on people who live in the city, zub, zub, zub.
It's plausible enough, until you face the great fact, a fireman's freedom to live in beautiful Largo is effectively restricted through the power brought against him by the District government. This should be changed. Not as a question of District finances, but as a question of American freedom.