Third Party & Independents Archives

You Only Own Your Home as Long as the Government Lets You

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kelo vs. City of New London, a case about the proper scope of the power of eminent domain. In the case at issue, New London decided to take the home of Mrs. Kelo and give it to Pfizer as part of an effort to economically revitalize the city. Basically, under our constitution, the Federal Government can take private property with just compensation but only for a public use. In this case, New London is willing to pay compensation, so the inquiry is whether taking from one private party to another is really a public use.

The Institute for Justice has documented over 10,000 uses of eminent domain taking from one private party to give to another- basically a forced sale, at a court-determined price, from an unwilling seller to a demanding buyer. From Ms. Kelo to Pfizer. The AARP, the NCAAP, the American Farm Bureau, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have all filed briefs in support of Ms. Kelo and the right of property owners to demand more than mere economic development as a justification for forcing them to sell to someone who has gotten the ear (or the pocketbook) of the legislature. For a further discussion of this issue, I also recommend Will Leviathan Win? by Professor Stephen Bainbridge.

My personal connection to this story is that my friend and I got up at 4:30 AM on Tuesday morning so we could see the Supreme Court argument in this case and another case on eminent domain. Unfortunately, we did not get into the Kelo case because fifty people had slept in the cold rain in front of the Supreme Court to watch this argument- the overwhelming majority of whom supported Mrs. Kelo (we were actually the last people not allowed in). The dedication of these 50 people, and those like Ms. Kelo, showed me that there are other people out there who realize that property rights do not just mean money rights. They mean that NO ONE, including the government, can simply take from you and give to another private party just because of some speculative economic justification. They mean that you own your home.

Once we finally got into the Supreme Court to see the second case that day, I was waiting in the coat check line with an old lady who was coming out of the Kelo case. She turned to me and said: they have taken my property three times already, and I just got a notice that they are going to do it again. She then continued: The first time, they took part of my land because they said they wanted to widen the street- its been three years and they have not done anything with the street, and now the project has been post-ponned indefinitely. I asked her: Well, can you buy the property back, then? She answered: I asked, but they said they might use it some day, so they are not giving it back. Of course they arent! Lets just hope the Supreme Court finds the courage to tell New London that just because they have money, they cant simply take your home from them against your will.

Posted by Misha Tseytlin at February 24, 2005 2:00 AM