Friday, June 24, 2005

Private Property, RIP -- part 2

These comments from George Will are notable:

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5 to 4 ruling that drains the phrase "public use" of its clearly intended function of denying to government an untrammeled power to dispossess individuals of their most precious property: their homes and businesses.

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?" Yesterday the court said that the modifier "public" in the phrase "public use" does not modify government power at all. That is the logic of the opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

In a tart dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Clarence Thomas and Scalia, noted that the consequences of this decision "will not be random." She says it is "likely" -- a considerable understatement -- that the beneficiaries of the decision will be people "with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

Those on the receiving end of the life-shattering power that the court has validated will almost always be individuals of modest means. So this liberal decision -- it augments government power to aggrandize itself by bulldozing individuals' interests -- favors muscular economic battalions at the expense of society's little platoons, such as homeowners and the neighborhoods they comprise.

This is a disaster.

The various states have a choice: follow the Supreme Court's ruling or follow the Michigan Supreme Court's Hathcock decision that ruled this type of eminent domain usage is contrary to the Michigan constitution. All state constitutions contain some limit on eminent domain, and the Federal Constitution sets a minimum for the level of protection of private property rights. That minimum is getting smaller by the day.

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