Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin, talked about personal property rights last week. She spoke of the 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London and vehemently disagreed with the high court's ruling. Gov. Palin said it is essential that personal property rights be protected in our country.
Kelo v. New London is an extremely controversial case and was decided by a close 5-4 vote of the Supremes. Here's a quick overview of that landmark decision: The city of New London, Connecticut, wanted to facilitate a large private commercial development through their Urban Renewal Agency. A group of existing homeowners and small businesses on the land banded together and refused to sell their properties, arguing that the government had no right to use the power of eminent domain to take their property and give it to private business. The high court ruled that the new development would improve the city's tax base and thereby be a public benefit.
Government taking personal property to give to private business? That's scary.
Justice Thomas, who was against the idea, wrote this in his dissent: "So-called 'urban renewal' programs provide some compensation for the properties they take, but no compensation is possible for the subjective value of these lands to the individuals displaced and the indignity inflicted by uprooting them from their homes. Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities...also the least politically powerful."
The least politically powerful are at risk.
Conservative columnist George Will wrote after the court's decision: "The question answered yesterday was: Can government profit by seizing the property of people of modest means and giving it to wealthy people who can pay more taxes than can be extracted from the original owners? The court answered yes."
When this decision was announced in 2005, I was on the CdA Planning and Zoning Commission and was quite concerned about our local vulnerabilities. I drafted a letter which all but one of my fellow commissioners signed in agreement. In the letter we asked Mayor Bloem and our city council to make a public statement of philosophy that they would never allow private property to be taken by eminent domain for any commercial use.
It's important for citizens to know that not only the city has the power of eminent domain, the LCDC, our unelected urban renewal board, does as well.
The only P&Z Commissioner to opt out of signing the letter was also a LCDC board member. After many weeks, the mayor replied by sidestepping the issue, saying she could not make that kind of statement.
I agree strongly with Sarah Palin, Justice Thomas and all those who believe in personal property rights. The use of eminent domain should be limited to basic government functions and restricted solely to public ownership.
As we watch our federal government use taxpayer dollars to bailout politically powerful businesses, almost anything previously unthinkable seems possible. Government intrusion into our lives is now at an all-time high. So while we may have a much smaller voice than Wall Street's, we must continually be aware of the laws, vigilant in our scrutiny and willing to stand up for our rights.