Author, scriptwriter, and producer Rod Serling was famous for, among many achievements, “submitting” tales of the bizarre and unsettling for “your approval” on his television phenomenon, “The Twilight Zone.”
Often, he and the other major writers on the series would display the stellar talent of being able to weave morality lessons or ethical themes into the tales without making the injection so overt that it destroyed the narrative or killed the suspension of disbelief. And they frequently wrote stories about the “every man” against some kind of authority, a faceless, bureaucratic leviathan that sought to crush him.
Serling also embraced a mixture of what were seen at that time as left-wing principles and more traditional ethics supporting the natural rights of man. So, for example, he favored the UN because he believed it would work to stop another world war (he served as a paratrooper in WWII), but he outright deplored and ridiculed huge, slow-moving, soul-snatching bureaucracy.
So one wonders what Serling would think of the plight of Carri Robertson, a Montana woman who was recently widowed
A woman whose husband just passed away after spending a year and a half in prison for digging “fire protection ponds” on his own property outside Basin, Montana.
U.S. Navy veteran Joseph D. Robertson languished in prison for a year and a half for digging fire protection ponds near his home outside Basin, Montana, without federal Clean Water Act permits. He used to operate a business that supplied water trucks to fire-fighting agencies. Robertson was also fined $130,000. In November 2018, he asked the Supreme Court to look at his conviction after it was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Let’s stop there.
This should be the end of it.
The man created ponds on his own land. Full stop.
No one had a claim to his land at the time, and only his wife has a claim to it now.
According to British Common law and the Lockean Natural Rights theory on which the U.S. system of tort law is supposed to be based, Robertson was supposed to be able to freely do anything he wanted with his property as long as he did not bring direct harm to the life or property of another. If someone believed Robinson had violated their rights and harmed them or their belongings, then that individual was supposed to be able to employ the ancient right to make a tortious claim for damages, go to a court, show damage, and proceed in a jury trial to determine if that was so, and what restitution might be due.
But the faceless bureaucracy of the U.S. government is nothing short of a Twilight Zone nightmare, and, thanks to Richard Nixon’s Environmental Protection Agency, Robinson was attacked for exercising his rights. Now, his widow is scrambling through a legal morass to stop the political predators from destroying everything for which they worked.
Robertson unexpectedly died on March 18 at age 78, but on April 15, the Supreme Court quietly granted Robertson’s petition without even proceeding to the oral argument phase. The high court vacated the judgment of the 9th Circuit, remanding the case to the circuit court to consider whether the case is moot at this point. Weeks before that, the Supreme Court agreed to substitute the petitioner’s wife and representative of his estate, Carri Robertson, as petitioner in place of Robertson.
And now, the Ninth Circuit will have to decide whether Mrs. Robinson, her lawyer, Tony Francois, and the estate will have to continue to fight the enormous fine, or whether it will be vacated.
Francois said in coming days he will file a motion in the circuit court to have the convictions of his client vacated and the fine abated. When a person convicted of a crime dies without the appeal process having completely run its course, the conviction is normally vacated… But it is unclear what position the government will take. Even if the convictions are dismissed, the fine could remain, in which case the controversy may yet find its way back to the Supreme Court, Francois explained.
And all of this might thrill political pedants who like to sow and reap vast landscapes of laws and bureaucracies and statutory structures the rules and mandates of which fill reams of legal volumes, but they harden the arteries of clear-minded, freedom-loving, innocent, peaceful people.
The kinds of people Serling defended.
So imagine, if you will, a man who created ponds on his property, ponds that harmed no one, ponds he used to fill trucks he supplied to firefighting agencies.
Then imagine a federal agency -- created despite the fact that the Constitution grants no such power to the Congress to control private property in this manner, a federal agency that could only find justification if there were disputes between the governments of two or more states or property owners in two or more states, over pollution that could show direct harm to the lives or property of others…
Imagine that such an agency argued that virtually any runoff or diversion of runoff from private land that could potentially, in some minute way, find a connection to a “navigable waterway” was under its mighty, faceless, tax-funded, nearly omnipotent, control.
Such an agency would be a menace, in bureaucratic form.
The definitions and rhetoric and legal distinctions and bureaucratic terms would be irrelevant.
The story is clear.
This is a tale about an innocent man, now dead, and his widow, now fighting for their rights, and a political, unsupportable, authoritarian government power.
America should never have gotten to this point.
One wonders if Serling ever imagined it could, in anything other than The Twilight Zone.