Editorial: Laws, not men


These words are engraved over the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building: “Equal Justice Under Law.” That’s been the American ideal since the nation gained independence, even if we haven’t always lived up to it.

Last week, something happened in Detroit to restore faith in our system: A billionaire who has repeatedly shown contempt for courts and laws spent a night in a crowded jail, after he encountered a judge he could not bully or buy off.

Eight years ago, Manuel Moroun and the Michigan Department of Transportation joined forces on the Gateway project, aimed at easing congestion at the crowded Ambassador Bridge, which Mr. Moroun owns, between Detroit and Canada. Instead of building his part of the project, Mr. Moroun closed a street, built gasoline pumps and a duty-free store, and improperly routed traffic by those enterprises, to make more money for himself.

The transportation department sued. Two years ago, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards ordered Mr. Moroun to follow the law and live up to the agreement. He ignored the ruling then, and ignored it again when the judge repeated his order last year.

Last week, the judge ran out of patience. He ordered the 84-year-old Mr. Moroun and Dan Stamper, the president of his bridge company, to court. He tossed them into jail for contempt, after some shenanigans in which the magnate claimed he really didn’t own the bridge company. The judge ordered them to stay behind bars until the work he had ordered got done.

After a day, the Michigan Court of Appeals freed Mr. Moroun and Mr. Stamper pending a Feb. 2 hearing. But the court let stand Judge Edwards’ ruling that the illegal construction must be demolished.

This region should have had enough of Mr. Moroun. He has spent millions of dollars to confuse the public and legally bribe the Michigan Legislature with campaign contributions, all to prevent a badly needed new public bridge from being built. Given the importance of the border crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, that obstructionism harms northwest Ohio as well.

The idea that one man should have a monopoly over the nation’s most economically important crossing would be absurd, even if Mr. Moroun’s reputation were pristine. Nor should his age and wealth offer any immunity from criminal prosecution.

If Mr. Moroun has not begun to demolish his illegal construction by the Feb. 2 hearing, he should go back to jail. The idea of our democracy is that we are supposed to be a government of laws, not men — even billionaires.