Carol Platt Liebau: A Decision Inimical to Liberty

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Decision Inimical to Liberty

The Founding Fathers must have rolled over in their grave, given yesterday's Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London.

Part of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution reads, "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation . . ." Historically, this has meant that one's land could be taken if, and only if, the property was going to be devoted to a public use (e.g. airport expansion).

Here, as Justice Thomas points out, the Supreme Court majority has basically rewritten the Constitution. By allowing government confiscation of private property, so that it may be made available to other private entities (albeit those that will pay more taxes), the "public use" requirement has been replaced by a "public purpose" test -- land may be taken by the government anytime that, in the government's judgment, the "public" as a whole will benefit . . . not just when the land is needed for their use.

What a terrible precedent. In other words, your property is secure only so long as the government doesn't decide that it could be more "better" used (from the government's perspective) by some other private person or entity.

The decision is deeply inimical to everything the Founding Fathers stood for. They understood that private property -- and the security of private property -- was the cornerstone of liberty and indispensable to a strong, self-reliant citizenry. Giving the government a freer hand to confiscate property (as long as its owner is "compensated") allows the government to wield a fearsome tool of powerful intimidation, and encroaches severely on the rights of free people.

It is a poor day's work, indeed.


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