Today, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the Kelo Decision that local officials can seize nearly anyone's private property and hand it over to their favorite developer:
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that
local governments may seize people's homes and businesses -- even
against their will -- for private economic dvelopment.
was a decision fraught with huge implications for a country with many
areas, particularly the rapidly growing urban and suburban areas,
facing countervailing pressures of development and property ownership
The 5-4 ruling represented a defeat for some Connecticut
residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an
office complex. They argued that cities have no right to take their
land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or
schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.
As a result, cities
have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping
malls and hotel complexes to generate tax revenue.
This is a really, really bad decision. Most of my thoughts on this subject are here. The Economist, quoted in that post, framed the issue well:
Put simply, cities cannot take someone's house just because they think
they can make better use of it. Otherwise, argues Scott Bullock, Mrs
Kelo's lawyer, you end up destroying private property rights
altogether. For if the sole yardstick is economic benefit, any house
can be replaced at any time by a business or shop (because they usually
produce more tax revenues). Moreover, if city governments can seize
private property by claiming a public benefit which they themselves
determine, where do they stop? If they decide it is in the public
interest to encourage locally-owned shops, what would prevent them
compulsorily closing megastores, or vice versa? This is central
Sandra O'Connor echoed these thoughts in her dissent, and made the obvious point: This is not about condemning land for the public good. This, in effect, will be about condemning land for the benefit of those with the most political pull:
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a key swing vote on many
cases before the court, issued a stinging dissent. She argued that
cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if
they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy
property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but
the fallout from this decision will not be random," O'Connor wrote.
"The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with
disproportionate influence and power in the political process,
including large corporations and development firms."
While Bush, sometimes rightly, gets bashed by the Left for trying to create a corporate state, it is in fact the left side of the Supreme Court that has struck the strongest blow now in that direction. This decision in a stroke gives local authorities nearly unlimited ability to engage in Soviet-style planning of their local economy.
the majority opinion says, quoting an earlier decision, the "Court
long ago rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be
put into use for the ... public." Which is to say, they've rejected the
notion that "public use" means anything more stringent than:
"legislators want to do this." The Court's view is that any "public
purpose" will do, and such purposes apparently include increased tax
revenue. The straightforward implication is that any taking of
a private residence to hand it over to a business, or just from a poor
person to a wealthy person, will be a taking in service of a public
purpose: As a general rule, the rich pay more taxes than the poor, and
businesses pay more taxes than households.
Here's a thought: How about the GOP-controlled Congress puts the flag
desecration amendment on the back burner and gets to work on an
amendment limiting the power of the state to seize private property
The Left seems split on the decision. Half are thrilled by the subjugation of property rights to government whim, while the other half are appalled that "public use" has come to be defined as maximizing property values. It is a strange place we are in when we have lefties like Kos actively supporting a decision that allows government to take land from citizens so long as a wealthier resident replaces a poorer resident on the land, or so long as a commercial enterprise replaces a non-commercial one.
UPDATE: Strata-Sphere has a roundup of some of the wacky things that local governments are doing with their newly-confirmed Kelo powers.