Life, Liberty, and Property

Hands off our homes
A Supreme Court ruling that allows the government to seize private property has set off a fierce backlash that may yet be as potent as the anti-abortion movement

"Seven days later [after the Kelo v. New London SCOTUS decision], by a ten-to-one margin, the Republican House of Representatives passed a motion disagreeing with the court. A constitutional amendment to overrule Kelo is before the House, while a bill that would have a similar effect is before the Senate. Delaware, Alabama and Texas have already passed laws restricting the government's power to grab private property. Legislators from two dozen other states have either proposed similar bills, or promised to do so.quot;


"Since Kelo, the law may have shifted in favour of the men with the bulldozers, but public opinion has swung sharply the other way. Polls suggest that 90% of Americans disapprove of the kind of seizures allowed by Kelo. Such is the anger that some developers say they are shunning even the kind of eminent-domain seizures that would have been legal before Kelo."

This decision has local implications, too.

"Property-owners fighting against local government have been buoyed by the backlash. In the town of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, for example, a small group of businessfolk received letters last year informing them that their shops were to be demolished to make way for a new development including apartments and a parking garage."


"The local government had declared the area 'blighted'. But a brief walkabout reveals that it is no more blighted than the potato you ate for lunch. A couple of shop fronts are a bit tatty, but otherwise it looks fine. Indeed, the district has been officially designated 'historic', since much of it was built in the 19th century. The condemned properties include a second-hand shop that supports the local hospital, a club for veterans of foreign wars and Scott Mahan's stationery shop, which has been in his family since 1926."

BTW, Ardmore is in Lower Merion Township, which was founded by Quakers, some of whom are my ancestors. It's a tenuous tie, perhaps, but preserving PA and family history is important to me. So is sticking up for underdogs.

A lot of the groups making a fuss about Kelo, like Grassfire, are conservative in nature, and the article points out similarities to the Roe v. Wade ruling. I don't think this should be dismissed as a right wingnut issue, however. The Left ought to be more interested that it seems to be. I can't recall a single alert or petition coming from the ACLU, MoveOn, or any of the other myriad liberal organizations I get mail from (and I get a lot). Why is that?

Average Americans of all political leanings seem to be outraged by this decision, but the leadership seems to be asleep at the switch. This decision will benefit large corporations and hurt small businesses and individual landowners. Joe Voter stands to lose the most from this ruling. The problem is, he didn't vote for the folks who made the decision. They were appointed by presidents and confirmed by his senators. The legislative branch is supposed to serve as a check on the powers of the executive and judicial branches. It's time to hold our representatives accountable and impress upon them the importance of supporting an amendment to reverse Kelo. To do that, we're going to need help from grassroots organizations from all parts of the spectrum.

Wake up, Left! Your country needs you!

Comments 3

  1. dlw wrote:

    Average americans tend to have a very poor understanding of constitutional law.

    If you read the actual disposition then you see that some very specific reasons were given to justify the taking in light of a public purpose.

    It is impossible for every “taking” to mandate compensation without completely impairing the police-role of the gov’t.

    I would suggest that you do some more homework before jumping on a populist bandwagon on issues that are outside of your intellectual purview.

    Besides what is at stake here is the inviolability of ownership of land and that has historically been a difficult moral question. Here are some quotes from famous thinkers on the matter taken from a Henry George website.

    John Locke said that “God gave the world in common to all mankind…. When the ‘sacredness’ of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.” William Blackstone wrote: “The earth, and all things therein, are the general property of all man-kind, from the immediate gift of the Creator.” Thomas Paine stated that “men did not make the earth… It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.” According to Thomas Jefferson, “The earth is given as a common stock for men to labor and live on.”

    John Stuart Mill wrote: “The increase in the value of land, arising as it does from the efforts of an entire community, should belong to the community and not to the individual who might hold title.” Abraham Lincoln said: “The land, the earth God gave to man for his home, sustenance, and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society, or unfriendly government, any more than the air or water, if as much.” In the words of Herbert Spencer, “equity does not permit property in land … The world is God’s bequest to mankind. All men are joint heirs to it.”

    long and short, our legal rights of property ownership of land are not sacrosanct and may be revoked if it serves a justified public purpose.


    Posted 20 Aug 2005 at 7:03 pm
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    “long and short, our legal rights of property ownership of land are not sacrosanct and may be revoked if it serves a justified public purpose”

    In principle, I agree with you. However, I question whether taking homes and small businesses away to give land to a shopping center is justified. I also dispute that such a taking and giving is really a “public purpose”. By such a loose definition, a lot of undesireable things could be done by a government in the name of private interests under the guise of public purpose.

    Posted 20 Aug 2005 at 10:20 pm
  3. dlw wrote:

    Well it was judged by the appropriate local legislative authorities to be such and the court exercised the correct practice of judicial deference.

    So if you want to second guess such a legislative determination, that is fine, but don’t raise a bloody banner over the courts undermining all property by permitting a taking without compensation.


    Posted 22 Aug 2005 at 8:49 pm

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