Friday, June 24, 2005

SCOTUS: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul Is Ok

The Supremes did it once again! Individuals' rights to their own property is now secondary to the State's concern that such property could somehow be used for the betterment of man. Welcome to the pesky area of law known as eminent domain, where the government can yank your land out from under you. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled in the matter of Kelo v. New London (courtesy RealClearPolitics), that if the state sees benefits to condemning private property for another's private use, that same is fine. And the Fifth Amendment takings clause is thereby stripped of its meaning, thereby stripping individuals of the certainty of their property rights. Your property is gone if someone else with more money wants it and can get the state to agree.

The basis for the ruling was their belief that public use of luxury facilities to be built on the ruins of working class families would enhance the tax base and provide an even prettier place for even newer residents to live, entertain and shop. An unelected local board was delegated power by the state, decided to condemn private property for use of this project which would have an essentially private purpose. The justices dance around just how public or private it is, given that it will confer economic benefits on that community, but same is irrelevant. The Fifth Amendment takings clause is all about the government forcibly taking your property, for fair market value, and using it for public purposes. For example, the new interstate, the Army base, the fire station, the wastewater plant. Stuff that clearly benefits the public. Granted, people don't daily use the Army base, the water treatment plant or the firehouse regularly like they would the highway but they confer a definite and completely public benefit.

So unless this resort will be free to the public, it seems like some people got kicked out of their homes because some unelected folks wanted to enhance the neighborhood. Because the state knows best. This really is scary. Granted, the people are compensated for their property, but that's not the point.

Real property is unique with singular characteristics that cause people to buy it. They like that particular view of the river, or the school district, its location to their office, the fact that it is the place where they intended to retire, and yes, its resaleability in the future. And just about every American's net worth is tied up in their real property. So depriving someone of it is an unbelievably serious matter.

But presuming that the states don't pull things like New London did here, the long term effect of this could be to lower the value of people's properties. Property value is what it is based upon numerous factors that we look at when assessing a potential new home: neighborhood, schools, access to commerce, and various other factors. But they make no difference if there is any problem with one gigantic and generally presumed factor--that you actually get to keep the place. If people reasonably fear losing property, there goes its value.

The Supreme Court considered the New London matter a "public benefit" because taxes will be raised from the new complex, and it would likely benefit the local economy. Folks, that's not public. And it now brings into the realm of what is "public" for takings purposes just about anything done with the wink of the state. Certainly it is a reasonable state objective to want to bring business to an area and to beef up the value of its dirt in order to collect taxes off of the back of new business activity.

But it doesn't meet the standard for pulling out the last resort of eminent domain.

And I think that this Supreme Court term will be known as one that limited the powers of states to the Federal government and the powers of individuals to both.

It's time that the courts be held responsible for their dissolution of the meaning of the Constitution and laws upon which our relationship to the state is based. Because they just sanctioned tyranny.

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