The Ohio task force on eminent domain has released its preliminary report, and it’s missed the most important point of the exercise. I’m not interested in a fairer procedure for the government to use as it takes my home. I’m not interested in a clearer definition of “blight” that spells out exactly when the government can take my home. You see, I don’t want the government to take my home at all. Why is that so hard to understand?
A local or state government can exercise its eminent domain powers to take private property from its owner, if the government does so for a “public use” and pays “just compensation” (see the Fifth Amendment, at right). Until very recently, the term “public use” meant what you’d expect: building a school, putting in a highway, laying railroad tracks, and other projects that the public has access to.
We used to think of private building projects as a “private use” of property, since the public doesn’t have guaranteed access. But no more. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. New London last summer, the definition of “public use” has expanded to include the government seizing your land and giving it to another private owner for “economic development” (which means the new owner’s project yields higher property taxes than you do, or creates jobs, or some similar rationalization).
Liberals and conservatives alike blew a collective gasket over the ruling, and angry voters have already pressured several state legislatures into passing laws prohibiting these takings through eminent domain.
Don’t miss Michelle Malkin’s survey of the Kelo blogstorm.
Glenn Reynolds rounds up some great commentary on property rights, all posted since yesterday’s decision in the Kelo case. I found Zach Wendling’s idea scary but fascinating: he suggests using environmental laws and regulations to protect your land from developers.
George Will distills the gigantic problem the Supreme Court dumped on us yesterday:
During oral arguments in February, Justice Antonin Scalia distilled the essence of New London’s brazen claim: “You can take from A and give to B if B pays more taxes?” On Thursday the court said that the modifier “public” in the phrase “public use” does not modify government power at all.
Liberalism triumphed Thursday. Government became radically unlimited in seizing the very kinds of private property that should guarantee individuals a sphere of autonomy against government.
Conservatives should be reminded to be careful what they wish for. Their often-reflexive rhetoric praises “judicial restraint” and deference to — it sometimes seems — almost unleashable powers of the elected branches of governments. However, in the debate about the proper role of the judiciary in American democracy, conservatives who dogmatically preach a populist creed of deference to majoritarianism will thereby abandon, or at least radically restrict, the judiciary’s indispensable role in limiting government.
If you’re still looking for more, one nice way to track who’s saying what about Kelo is N.Z. Bear’s topic page on the case. Plus, there’s Google News and Technorati.
UPDATE: This post about Zimbabwe isn’t actually a reaction to the Kelo ruling, but it does demonstrate what happens when a nation guts the concept of private property rights.
UPDATE 2: Ever wondered what you can look forward to after this outrageous ruling? Wonder no more.
UPDATE 3: Pros and Cons predicts many communities will see a rise in homelessness, a spike in government subsidized housing residents, and a drop in the number of low-income workers available to employers.
Meanwhile, Wizbang’s Jay Tea tiptoes through the Bill of Rights in a property rights retrospective.
UPDATE 4: Lawrence White at Division of Labour predicts more empty big box shopping centers and strip malls, thanks to Kelo‘s anti-competitive side effects.
I think we might be able to contract around the problem.
UPDATE 5: Eric’s Grumbles Before The Grave has a good roundup, including a Canadian’s perspective.
Here we are in Day Two of life without property rights, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday in Kelo v. New London. Five unelected lawyers have decided that contrary to any rational reading of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, a local government can use its eminent domain power to take your land, pay you
a pittance “just compensation”, then turn around and sell the land to someone who makes fat campaign donations to another private party that the government thinks will engage in a nice “public use” of your land … in other words, in some way that’s hyped as creating jobs, generating more property tax revenue, or helping economic development.
Since we can’t rely on the plain language of the Constitution anymore to keep the government’s grubby paws away from our property, what can we do? As a temporary measure, maybe we can contract around the Kelo problem.
Let’s say that you own some attractive real estate that your local government wants to take from you through eminent domain. To foil their plans you enter into a contract with the state government, where in exchange for a fee, the state automatically takes title to your property if your municipal or county government ever attempts to condemn it, and you get to live on the land. Perhaps it could be set up as a trust with the state as trustee.
Anyway, since a local government doesn’t have the authority to condemn state property, they lose all incentive to condemn your property once you tell them about your new arrangement. If the condemnation would be for a true public use (as we used to understand it) like building a highway or a bridge, you can always put a clause in the contract that exempts such true public uses from triggering the passage of title to the state.
Now since the local government gains nothing by using eminent domain for shifty purposes, they won’t condemn your property … and the state never takes title. But the state does get a valuable interest in your land, and it gets political brownie points by being perceived as “defending the little guy” from corrupt local politicians and fatcat developers. To top it all off, you get a fee from the state in exchange for its interest in your land.
This strikes me as a quick way to inoculate property against greedy local governments. What do you think?
UPDATE: Will Collier rounds up other possible solutions.
UPDATE 2: This post has merged at high speed into today’s Beltway Traffic Jam.