Sometimes certain things connect in a way that brings tears to one’s eyes. Or maybe it’s just me, still looking for a hero, i.e., a person of integrity and competence in public life.
This week, as the state and local fiscal years begin, we celebrate the 37th anniversary of the date Proposition 21/2’s levy limit went into effect. I realize the 37th anniversary is usually not a big deal: Instead of silver and gold, it is represented by a gift of alabaster. This was a valued good at the time of the ancient Greeks, which is appropriate because I want to tell you about a modern philosopher-judge who is one reason we still have property tax limitation. And for a change, I haven’t waited until he is dead to praise him.
Prop 2½ was an initiative petition, passed by the voters in November of 1980. Some public employee unions immediately mounted a court challenge, arguing that it was the end of civilization as we know it, not to mention a violation of freedom of religion (?). Since the petition was now a law, it was defended by the Attorney General’s office: Attorney General Frank Bellotti assigned two young attorneys, Donald Stern and James Aloisi, whom we heard about often in future years, to defend it, which they did well.
The case was heard by one associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Judge William G. Young. His ruling, as I recall it: “Whether Proposition 21/2 is foolish or farsighted is no business of the courts.”
I was young and impulsive. I actually called to thank the judge for his extraordinary wisdom and turn of phrase. He mildly scolded me, telling me he might have to rule on an appeal and therefore couldn’t discuss the case with me. I was mildly embarrassed and never called a judge again — but over the years, I followed his career with admiration that never flagged. He was nominated for a federal judgeship by President Reagan, and one case over which he much later presided was the trial of the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid in 2003.