So, at Kamaaina Loan blog, we are quick to pass on just about any news item that untarnishes (is that a word?) the widespread image of pawn shops as sleazy, predatory businesses. Fair’s fair.
Sometimes the old image crops up Paul Bunyan-size, as it just did in Flint, Michigan, where a pawn shop planning to deal in auto titles was denied a special use permit. (Pawning cars is not allowed in Hawaii; laws vary across the nation.)
The decision by the Flint Planning Commission was unconstitutional, a point we will expand on later, but first let’s look at some of the objections to the Cash for Keys pawn shop.
A preacher said,
“I’m against pawnbrokers and pawn shops,” said the Rev. Allen Gilbert. “I want to know: Who are they? Where did they come from? Is there anything in their background (that would be) a major concern?”
A citizen said:
South Flint resident Barbara Griffith Wilson said the proposed Cash for Keys Pawnbrokers would be another business that doesn’t help the neighborhood its in.
“We have an overflow of pawn shops and (gentlemen’s clubs),” Griffth Wilson said. “We should take a real microscopic look” at this business.
And while the comments on the All Michigan news site cannot have influenced the commission, they were as negative as could be:
They are businesses that the majority of their customer base is convicted felons. You’ve got to be a little shady to run one.
Pawn shops encourage criminal activity and cater to the desperate. It’d be nice to see them go. Most use them as a way to get quick cash after ripping someone off.
We need not go into the inconvenient facts, except to say that most pawn shop customers are not convicted felons. But quite likely some members of the commission think so, too.
Should the applicant have the resources to challenge the decision, she’ll win. Although we have not seen the contents of the decision and order of the commission, most of the testimony as reported by All Michigan was not germane. So what if the area has a lot of strip clubs? A pawn shop is not a strip club.
More to the point, there has to be a rational nexus between the action of any government body and the facts on the ground. Vague suspicions like those held by Rev. Gilbert don’t meet the test. Unless the applicant has a criminal record, character doesn’ count either.
Some places deny pawn licenses to convicted felons but most don’t. Even if an applicant was an ax murderer, the conviction might not rise to the level needed. If, however, she had been convicted to auto theft, that could be a rational reason to at least question her qualifications.
But, since she had operated a used car lot on the same site until recently, it seems unlikely she was boosting hot cars.
And there lies the real rational nexus. The application proposed to replace a used car operation with another used car operation. The financing of the deals would change, but not the use.
Pretty generally, equal protection of the laws don’t allow governments to discriminate on that basis. You cannot allow a Ford dealer on a lot but disallow a Toyota dealer because (for example), Toyota is a foreign company.
So it looks like we have an out-of-control planning commission in Flint. One wonders what the corporation counsel was doing. Nothing would be our guess.