I prefer Flo-Rida to Florida

In the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, Daily Show’s John Oliver rails against Florida’s crazy state laws, saying “what makes this so much worse — that we could get a verdict like this, not because the system is broken down, but because the system worked exactly as it’s designed.”

Another of Florida’s crazy laws is the “Alien Land Law” in the Florida Constitutions prohibiting Asians from owning property in the Sunshine State.  These laws were found in several states around the first two decades of the 20th century, and then became invalidated with the 14th Amendment.  Every other state has since repealed their Alien Land Laws, except Florida.  

In 2008, while I was working on the No to Prop 8 campaign in California, Florida’s Prop 1 was to amend their constitution to get rid of the Alien Land Law language in their constitution.  The amendment failed to pass because 48% of Florida voters actively decided to keep an unenforceable, racist law on their books.   Recent legislative efforts seeking to repeal the Alien Land Law in 2009 and 2010 have failed to get the issue on the ballot.

The disturbing thing isn’t the law itself, or it’s symbolism of some by-gone era of codified racism.  It’s that nearly the majority of that population of one state still seems to prefer living in that era even today

What does that translate to, on a pragmatic level?  Well imagine you are an Asian Floridian trying to buy a home.  The person trying to sell that house says (with a 50% chance) “Hey, actually in Florida I don’t think Asians can buy property.  Sorry!  Can’t sell it to you.”  What can you do?  You can say “This is illegal!” and file a lawsuit against the seller.  And if you are lucky (50% chance!), the lucky judge you get won’t be of the opinion that he can “interpret” the laws in some way to ignore the 14th Amendment.  If he does, you have the option to pile more and more money in lawyer fees until you somehow appeal it to a court judge not of that opinion.  (If you treat it like independent Bernoulli trials, the expected number of judges you face before finding one to rule your way is 2).  Equal protection under the law != Equality.

Or, more likely, you’ll just give up on buying that particular dream home of yours and walk away a sadder and angrier American.

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