Two American pastimes: Baseball and theft by government

Investigadores han medido el nivel de libertad económica utilizando criterios como gasto gubernamental, impuestos, regulación, sistema legal y derechos de propiedad, entre otros, escribe Jorge L. Rodríguez.

Roberto Clemente


Roberto Clemente is one of the most storied players in Major League Baseball history. During his nearly two-decades on the field, Clemente racked up two World Series rings, an MVP award, and numerous batting titles.

After tragically passing away in a plane crash at just 38, he was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame. A year after his death, the league award given each season to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team” was renamed the Roberto Clemente Award.

So popular and beloved was Clemente’s brand that his home island of Puerto Rico used it to raise revenue.

Puerto Rico hauled in $15 million selling license plates with Clemente’s likeness. It did so without his family’s permission and without paying them a dime.

Payment is critical in many lawsuits. If someone hits your car, that person pays to fix the damage. But the government can often violate your property rights without having to provide you with any compensation whatsoever. Under a legal doctrine called sovereign immunity, many state and federal governments don’t have to pay — even when they clearly violate a person’s constitutional rights. Courts may even say that the government indeed violated a person’s rights but then refuse to force the government to compensate them and make them whole.

There has been some debate about whether courts would allow property owners to recover money from the government when it takes their property. In my home state of Tennessee, property owners are out of luck after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision shutting the courthouse doors for property owners seeking compensation in the states it covers, including not just Tennessee, but also Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio.

But there’s still hope for residents of these states and those in other states where “you break it, you pay” doesn’t yet apply to the government.

Clemente’s three sons are asking for payment in a federal appeals court for Puerto Rico’s violation of the family-owned Clemente trademark. This court hasn’t yet addressed the sovereign immunity issue, an issue that the Supreme Court itself looks poised to review.

Despite his short life, Roberto Clemente built a legacy that is unrivaled in professional baseball. The territory of Puerto Rico shamelessly exploited that legacy for its own monetary gain. It owes his family for stealing his likeness, which is their property and theirs alone.

As attorneys representing the Clemente family in this case free of charge, we are confident that the Supreme Court will agree with them that the Constitution means what it says: When the government violates your property rights, it must pay you for that violation. That decision will be vital for property rights nationwide, from Puerto Rico to Pennsylvania to Tennessee.

It would be fitting for Clemente to hit yet another home run — this time for freedom — a full five decades after his last at bat.

Wen Fa is director of legal affairs at the Beacon Center, which represents the Clemente family in their case against Puerto Rico. Justin Owen is the center’s president and CEO. Puerto Rico Institute for Economic Liberty submitted an amicus brief.

This article was originally published in English in The Hill.

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