Supreme Wonderland

by on July 25th, 2005

The 5th Amendment, ratified in 1791, states, “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The term ‘public use’ was later reinterpreted to mean public benefit or purpose. Still, the ‘takings clause’ has been utilized for preservation of historical sights, construction of roads, etc.

The recent Supreme Court majority decision expanded the definition of ‘public purpose’ to include economic development. That is, it entitles the local government to confiscate your house (with compensation), if it has done so for the purpose of economic rejuvination (i.e. jobs, taxes, etc) Essentially, anyone with more money or development capability has more right to your property than you.

Of course economic rejuvination is in the public interest. But by what means should this be accomplished? Encouragement of business growth and investment is in the public interest. But, expansion of local government powers to confiscate your property for the public purpose of private economic development is not only unconstitutional, but can open a pandora’s box of favoritism and corruption.

On second thought, I would probably enjoy a job where Walmart and Microsoft attempt to convince me to sign away your house. The Kelo v. New London decision grants that power to a city official… and after all, they probably have a mortgage to pay too. Well, for now…

A day after the Kelo decision was delivered, Freestar Media LLC submitted a proposal in the town of Weare, New Hampshire where majority opinion writer, Justice Souter, owns a farm house. They requested that the town board condemn the land and give it to them, as private developers, who promise to construct the Lost Liberty Hotel in its place. Their tax revenue would no doubt be higher than the reported $2,500 that Justice Souter paid in property taxes last year. It would create employment and attract tourism. The town has a website, and an economic development committee, which has identified its two main goals: 1) Encourage the formation of new businesses, and 2) Promote tourism. However, contrary to its stated goals and the legally sanctioned purpose of economic development, the town’s board turned down the proposal.

So much for poetic justice. Justice Souter’s influence in his community shielded him from his own ruling. No other rational justification can be found.

Thankfully, the legislative branch is now busy at work attempting to shield private property rights from the Supreme Court ruling. It seems that the two may have switched roles, with the House defending the Constitution, and the Supreme Court writing new laws.

I thought I saw Alice the other day! Or maybe it was Justice Souter –skipping in Wonderland, immune to and above the laws he passes.

John McDonald