One listener wants to know what gives the government the right to tow your car for unpaid parking tickets. I’m Amy E. Feldman.

A listener wants to know what gives the government the right to boot—and then tow—a car over parking violations. He wrote: if my neighbor doesn’t pay me money he owes, I can’t take his car. He wants to know whether it’s a Constitutional violation to seize property without just compensation. At first blush, the answer seems obvious: the government does it all the time. Of course they can do it. And, spoiler alert, that is the answer. But the more you think about it, the more it does kind of seem wrong. 

Why does the government have the right to take your car for a couple of unpaid parking tickets? Well first, because there’s a law in virtually every state that says they can. While the Fifth Amendment says the government has to pay you if they want to take your property for public use, that doesn’t apply where the government is seizing a car to punish you for bad behavior. They have to give you notice and an opportunity to correct the situation before they tow your car, but the Constitution won’t help you get your car back if you don’t pay the tickets.

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