Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The State as Robber Baron

Have you been following the scary story in Connecticutt? We're moving closer to true communism (the state owns your butt) every day.

BEGINNING his oral argument in Kelo v. City of New London, the Connecticut eminent-domain case the Supreme Court took up last week, Scott Bullock of the Institute for Justice puts the stakes bluntly:

‘‘Every home, church, or corner store would produce more jobs and tax revenue if it were a Costco or a shopping mall,’’ he says. If state and local governments can force a property owner to surrender his land so it can be given to a new owner who will put it to more lucrative use, no home or shop in America will ever be safe again.

That’s just what New London wants to do to Bullock’s clients, the last remaining homeowners in the city’s working-class section of Fort Trumbull. When Pfizer, the big pharmaceutical firm, announced in 1998 that it would build a $300 million research facility nearby, the city decided to raze Fort Trumbull’s modest homes and shops so they could be replaced with more expensive properties: offices, upscale condos, a luxury hotel.


When Bullock argues that New London wants to throw people out of their homes for the sake of ordinary economic development, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asks why that’s a problem. New London is depressed, she says; what’s wrong with trying to ‘‘build it up and get more jobs?’’ If the city could buy property on the open market and turn it over to a developer, wonders Justice David Souter, why can’t it use eminent domain to achieve the same end? Justice Stephen Breyer notes that there is bound to be some public benefit from almost any land taking. Isn’t that enough to satisfy the Constitution’s ‘‘public use’’ requirement?

It is a depressing colloquy for anyone who believes that property rights are fundamental to liberty. But there is worse to come. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor presses Wesley Horton, the lawyer for New London, on whether eminent domain can really be deployed to condemn any property that could be put to better use.

‘‘For example, a Motel 6,’’ O’Connor says. ‘‘A city thinks, ‘If we had a Ritz-Carlton, we’d get higher taxes.’ Is that OK?’’

‘‘Yes, that’s OK,’’ Horton replies.

Justice Antonin Scalia: ‘‘You can take from A and give it to B, if B pays more in taxes?’’

Horton: ‘‘Yes, if it’s a significant amount.’’

So there you have it, freedom-fans. He who has the gold makes the rules.


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