Thursday, June 23, 2005

What have France, New London and U.S. Eminent Domain law have to do with each other? Or...Why the U.S. is suddenly alot more like Zimbabwe

Lots. Today, the Supreme Court decided that governments may condemn privately owned land and transfer that land to another private party. Basically, you no longer own your own home. Am I being alarmist? Yes. But, then again, the farmers in Zimbabwe who have lost their land and seen their country turned from the brightest economic star in Africa into a pot of decay and poverty were probably seen as alarmist also. Since when is profit-making private re-development a "public use"? Only in Africa...

I plead with you to take action to get your state government to amend its state constitution to prohibit private takings now that the Supreme Court has surrendered the rights to our homes to anyone who can write out enough contribution checks to local government and come up with a fake "public purpose."

What has New London got to do with it? The case name. Kelo v. New London

The Court commented: "Those who govern the city [of New London] were not confronted with the need to remove blight..., but their determination that the area was sufficiently distressed to justify a program of economic rejuvenation is entitled to our deference....Clearly, there is no basis for exempting economic development from our traditionally broad understanding of public purpose."

Put in easy to understand language: Since the local government decided it was ok, and even though it wasn't taking the land for government purposes, since they had a good reason to do so, i.e. a private re-developer would bull-doze everything and put up more expense housing which would increase the tax base for the local government deciding it was's ok.

What has France got to do with it?

The principal dissent, by Justice O'Connor, was based around an axiom made popular by the short book "The Law" by Frederick Bastiat. Basically, that when government has power, people will try to seize control of government to get the government's power exercised in their behalf. Madison sought to diffuse this by creating competing factions who would fight and prevent this from happening. Sadly, at the local level, it is often the easiest to bribe/control the local government when you are dealing with a real estate developer with deep pockets.

In her words:

Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded–i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public–in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings “for public use” is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property–and thereby effectively to delete the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent.

Money quote: "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. '[T]hat alone is a just government,' wrote James Madison, “which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”


Blogger RoastedTomatoes said...


You're entirely right on this issue. It's a terrible ruling that empowers wealthy developers and investors to run roughshod over anybody--as long as they pay "fair compensation." Which is a contradiction in terms, since fair compensation in a market economy is that quantity which convinces an individual to sell without invoking the powers of the state. I'm willing to overlook this problem when the state interest actually involves a valuable collective good--even one like a freeway that I'm not too excited about on principle. But not to build America's 4000th shopping-mall-and-condo complex.

3:01 PM  
Blogger W. Lyle Stamps said...

Here is the letter I've sent to my local state legislators. I've also sent a slightly modified letter to my U.S. Senators & Representative requesting amendment of the U.S. Constitution. [Per RT's suggestion, I've deleted my address & T#]

I hereby request, as your constituent, that you take action to defend my home from being condemned under either the national or PA eminent domain laws. I urge you to take action to amend the PA State Constitution and override the Supreme Court's misguided decision immediately. Alternatively, because I understand the difficulty in amending the state constitution, I suggest that we craft legislation that would prevent any political subdivision of Pennsylvania from condemning land that will be sold/developed by a for profit real estate developer.

The U.S. Supreme Court today decided today that local government could condemn private property and turn said property over to private, for-profit, developers. This country was founded on the values of life, liberty and property. The Supreme Court urgently needs to be overruled to protect homeowners like myself from being forced into accepting far below market value assessements for their property or face expensive litigation against local government units bought and paid for by real estate developers. Just because new development would increase real estate values and thereby local tax revenue is not, and never should be, a "public purpose" per the U.S. Constition. There is no public purpose for local governments to steal homeowners property in favor of real estate developers and increased tax revenue.


W. Lyle Stamps, Esq.
Upper Darby, PA

10:31 AM  

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