June 23, 2005

Property Wrongs


From The New York Times: Justices, 5-4, Back Seizure of Property for Development.

The Supreme Court ruled today, in a deeply emotional case weighing the rights of property owners and the good of the community, that local governments can sometimes seize homes and businesses and turn them over to private developers.

In a case with nationwide implications, the court ruled, 5 to 4, against a group of homeowners in New London, Conn., who have resisted the city's plans to demolish their working-class homes near the Thames River to make way for an office building, riverfront hotel and other commercial activities.

The majority held that, just as government has the constitutional power of eminent domain to acquire private property to clear slums or to build roads, bridges, airports and other facilities to benefit the public, it can sometimes do so for private developers if the latters' projects also serve a public good. ...

Scott Bullock, a lawyer for the Institute of Justice, which represented the families, was bitterly disappointed. "A narrow majority of the court simply got the law wrong today," he said in an A.P. interview. "Our Constitution and country will suffer as a result."

But New London officials said the overall good that will come from private development in the Fort Trumbull area outweighs the rights of the individual homeowners.

From The Ayn Rand Institute: The Tyranny of Eminent Domain by Larry Salzman and Alex Epstein .

What justifies this treatment of Kelo and the other owners, who simply want to be free to live on their own property? The seizures and transfers, the government says, are in "the public interest"--because they will lead to more jobs for New London residents and more tax dollars for the government. This type of justification was given more than 10,000 times between 1998 and 2002, and across 41 states, to use eminent domain (or its threat) to seize private property. The attitude behind these seizures was epitomized by a Lancaster, CA, city attorney explaining why a 99˘ Only store should be condemned to make way for a Costco: "99 Cents produces less than $40,000 [a year] in sales taxes, and Costco was producing more than $400,000. You tell me which was more important?"

To such government officials, the fact that an individual earns a piece of property and wants to use and enjoy it, is of no importance--all that matters is "the public." But as philosopher Ayn Rand observed, "there is no such entity as 'the public,' since the public is merely a number of individuals . . . .the idea that 'the public interest' supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others." In the context of the Kelo case, the idea that "the public interest" trumps private property rights simply means that the desires of some individuals for property they did not earn and cannot get from others voluntarily trump the rights of those who did earn it and do not want to sell it. Why are their rights trumped? Because some gang with political pull doesn't happen to like how these individuals are using their property.

This is unjust and un-American.

UPDATE I -- June 27: This cartoon appears in today's Investor's Business Daily.

UPDATE II -- June 29: From Freestar Media: Could a hotel be built on the land owned by Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter?. (Thanks to everyone who sent this article to us.)

[Logan Darrow] Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

The proposed development, called "The Lost Liberty Hotel" will feature the "Just Desserts Café" and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon's Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged."

UPDATE III: From AP: Proposal Made to Seize Souter's Property.

The letter was passed along to the board of selectmen. If the five-member board were to endorse the hotel project, zoning laws would have to be changed and the hotel would have to get approval from the planning board. Messages seeking comment were left with Laura Buono, board chairwoman.

"Am I taking this seriously? But of course," said Charles Meany, Weare's code enforcement officer. "In lieu of the recent Supreme Court decision, I would imagine that some people are pretty much upset. If it is their right to pursue this type of end, then by all means let the process begin."

Posted by Forkum at June 23, 2005 06:21 PM