Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Government goes too far in eminent domain abuse case

We're almost always at complete odds with the radical "property rights" crowd, out to destroy growth management and the critical areas ordinance.

But in the case of Kelo v. New London, we're surprisingly in agreement with them.

The Kelo case is a unique and disturbing example of when government goes too far and abuses its power of eminent domain. The fight over eminent domain is not directly connected to the debate over growth management and the critical areas ordinance, though there are a few similar themes.

The basic idea behind eminent domain, as spelled out by the Constitution, is that government has the right to take private property for "public use", so long as the owner is compensated. The definition of "public use" is the central theme in the Kelo case. Here's a backgrounder from the Institute for Justice:
On July 19, 2004, the Institute for Justice petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear one of the most important property rights cases in the past 50 years.

Kelo v. New London puts the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court in the clearest possible terms: Does the U.S. Constitution allow the government to take property from one private party in order to give it to another private party because the new owner might produce more profit and more taxes for the City from the land?

The rights of all home and business owners hang in the balance.

In a 4-3 decision earlier this year, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that even if there is nothing wrong with your home, your business or even your neighborhood, the government can use eminent domain to take your land and give it to the developer for his private gain. This ruling is an invitation to disaster because every business generates more taxes than a home and every big business generates more taxes than a small one. If the ruling stands, any property can be taken through eminent domain.

The U.S. Constitution and every state constitution requires that private property only be taken for “public use,” such as a road or a public building, not for private economic gain. The use of eminent domain for the creation of tax revenue is the broadest and most dangerous expansion of eminent domain yet realized.

The time is ripe for the U.S. Supreme Court to once again review the constitutional limits on one of the most serious powers a government has at its disposal. The High Court has not considered an eminent domain case dealing with development since Berman v. Parker was decided 50 years ago. With the appeal of the Connecticut decision, the Court may consider whether the Constitution’s public use requirement means anything at all.
The full backgrounder can be read here. We believe that eminent domain is a power that should be used as sparingly as possible. If there is a way to avoid uprooting people from their homes and avoid the systematic deconstruction of neighborhoods, then that alternative should be embraced as often as possible by elected officials.

Governments should not seize citizens' property and then turn it around for someone else's private use. Using the power of eminent domain to aid developers is wrong. The city of New London and other local governments erred badly when they decided to abuse eminent domain. It's these kind of policies that destroy the balance between the rights of the region/community and the rights of individual citizens.

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