Thursday, July 7, 2005

Standing Firm on Kelo

I've withheld posting on Kelo v. City of New London, mostly because the thoughts of that case make me want to sputter and rage at the moon. As a classical liberal turned libertarian, I'm enraged that John Paul Stevens could have supported such an overarching view of eminent domain. I should have continued to keep quiet, but that'd make for a boring blog....

John Hinderaker of Power Line has decided to defend the Kelo v. City of New London case decided by the Supreme Court last week, briefly on Power Line, in more depth on the Weekly Standard website. John's logic is why I am do not like the title "conservative".

New London appearantly is condemning large sections of land around the new Pfizer facility, not because they are particularly "blighted" or requiring removal, but because their use doesn't match the desires of community planners. John defends this, using language steeped not in (IMHO) conservative values, but in the worst of the 19th century pro-business socialism that forced the creation of the progressive movement.

The second-strongest power that a government has is the confiscation of property, whether temporary or permanent. The English government trampled this in pre-Revolution America, through forced billing of soldiers, among other grievances. The Fifth Amendment was designed to constrain the powers of government from infringing on the rights of people.

John forgets that governments do not have rights. A city does not have the "right" to be more prosperious, or to make more money. Instead, people have rights, and one of those rights is right to security of their property.

Unlike John's Pollyanna statement "Second, the Fifth Amendment requires that anyone whose property is taken for a public use be fairly compensated, and in practice, most takings are compensated generously", reality shows a much harsher picture. Condemnation is a club welded early and often against poor people who cannot afford lawyers. For every one case where some politically-connected person gets triple value, there is a poor person robbed of their land. Moreover, even if someone is paid fair value, it is rarely enough to buy an equitable piece of property and to pay the expenses in moving from one piece of property to another.

I believe that a US government entity should have to meet four standards before a condemnation of direct living space or active business space occurs:

1: The property will not leave government ownership for at 15 years, or the original owner gets right of first refusal to purchase the property back at the amount paid at condemnation, no matter how much the property value has increased in the meantime.

2: The primary use of the property changes significantly (i.e. house -> road).

3: The government must, at the owner's choice, either pay fair market value or purchase a comparable property within a reasonable range of the property. i.e If you take a poor farmer's 30 acres, the government either pays cash, or goes and buys 30 acres of farm somewhere else close.

4: The government pays all lawyer's fees, and no caps.

Yes, this would make life harder on the govenment (especially number 4), but that's fine. I prefer the government's life to be harder.

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