February 21, 2005
I'm glad to see the issue of takings of private property for private use is finally before the U.S. Supreme Court:
In New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere around the country, public officials are increasingly moving to seize property through eminent domain. The idea is to let private developers bulldoze the property and erect upscale condos, offices and shops in hopes of infusing new life into a vacant shopping center, a neighborhood or an entire town.The U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment says this about the taking of property:
Private property shall not be taken for a public use, without just compensation.It beats me how "public use" has been translated into private use, and I think it's another example of how the plain language of the Constitution has been twisted beyond all meaning.
I grew up near the suburban town of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, which has a number of commercial buildings built before and after World War I. I consider them part of Ardmore's charm. They're old, but mostly pretty, and above all, they have character. They're all are occupied with thriving, relatively upscale businesses too.
This, however, has not stopped local bureaucrats from declaring the area "blighted" -- a move towards condemning these older buildings in favor of larger, fat-cat type private developers:
There is one "blighted" urban neighborhood where the sophisticated shopper can still find a decent cappuccino and a $6,000 hand-tailored business suit, all without ever leaving the Main Line.They did it anyway, and I think it's not only an abuse of government power, but a damned shame.
Not that my sentimental feelings about the place where I grew up should be controlling. If the private owners of these buildings decide that they'd make more money tearing them down and putting up newer buildings, well, that's their right, and like it or not, it's called progress. But why should the government step in and decide to confiscate an older building and give it to Wal Mart? Why can't the big guys just offer a fair price to the owner?
Constitutional violations aside, something about this process would seem to invite political chicanery, if not outright corruption. Want a good deal on a piece of property? Contribute large sums of money to the right guy's campaign, and it'll be yours for a song!
I hope the Supremes slam-dunk this thing, but there's no way to tell . . .
A ruling in the New London case could have "ramifications for property owners and governments across the country," says Perry, who submitted a "friend of the court" brief for a California-based libertarian group, the Reason Foundation, that sides with Kelo.With libertarian groups and the NAACP on the same side, I'm more optimistic than I was.
Noting that the Institute for Justice is behind the case (something an omission by USAToday failed to emphasize) Eugene Volokh also links to this more through Knight-Ridder report.
The Institute for Justice (a great organization, BTW) has a lot more here.
posted by Eric on 02.21.05 at 10:58 AM
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Private apparatchiks?:
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