The Limits of Motherhood -- and the Constitution

Cody Miyler is a fellow with an abundance of gall. After being dismissed as police chief of East Galesburg, Ill., Miyler sued the town of 900, claiming a violation of his constitutional due process rights. Apparently East Galesburg has an ordinance decreeing that the town "president" must sign off on police chief firings, and Miyler claimed that the then-president - who happened to be his mother - hadn't given her consent.

But gall only gets you so far with the law (just ask OJ Simpson). And so it was that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week decided to end Miyler's curiously-long quest for satisfaction from the town he briefly served.

The court declared in a five-page opinion that there was no "due process" right to the job and that, even if there were, it would not generate a "property interest" sufficient to trigger constitutional protection.

Miyler served as East Galesburg police chief, at a salary of $9 a day, for only two plus years. The village board of trustees voted to remove him in 2003 after becoming, in the court's words, "troubled by various allegations of misconduct by Miyler, such as his providing beer to some underage boys, using a local brickyard for a firing range, and being ticketed for riding a motorcycle without a valid license, a 'violation' to which he entered a guilty plea."

Yet it took nearly five years of legal wrangling to get to this point.

Now, Miyler could try to get a hearing before the full 7th Circuit or the Supreme Court. But thankfully his chance of success is slim. You can usually tell how hard an appellate ruling is by the length of time between oral argument and the opinion. Here, oral argument took place Dec. 2, with the decision coming Jan. 9. Five weeks. A blink of an eye in the legal system. That tells you how lopsided the case really was.

It's a shame that the federal courts spend any time on these sorts of silly loser cases. But it's something to keep in mind when federal judges -- led by Chief Justice John Roberts -- beg politicians for more judges and more money.

By Andrew Cohen |  January 15, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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The court did not spend any time on the case as you confirm. It was a five page opinion written over the Christmas/New Year holiday. The Seventh Circuit decides over 3,500 cases a year. It is inevitable there will be a few that are silly.

The right of access to courts that is a part of the First Amendment right to petition one's government for redress of grievances guarantees a person's right to file a silly case that is not frivolous.

Another part of the First Amendment -- the right of freedom of the press -- guarantees columnists the right to make silly statements. Your mention of this East Galesburg, Illinois case (pop. under 1,000) as an example demonstrating federal judges are not burdened by an increasing caseload requiring more federal judges is just as silly as the East Galesburg case.

It is also disappointing given the usual high quality of your column.

Posted by: Steagall | January 15, 2008 11:19 AM

Did the court find that Mrs. Miyler should have recused herself due to the inherent conflict of interest?

This sounds more like a plot line for Boston Legal or Reno 911. You have to love the ticket for riding the motorcycle without a valid license. Who ticketed the Chief? Deputy Fife? Too bad that it isn't just fiction.

Posted by: DC | January 15, 2008 11:27 AM

Why do you think there was a "due process" right to the job?

Posted by: | January 18, 2008 01:42 AM

Why do you think there was a "due process" right to the job?

Posted by: Bipin Adhikari | January 18, 2008 01:43 AM

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