On Thursday the United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling in the case of Suzette Kelo (left) et al v. City of New London, 04-108 that stated in it’s simplest explanation “If the government wants your property, it can come and take it, no matter what you want. Period.”
In what is becoming typical of most of the court’s controversial rulings, the vote was by just a 5-4 margin. Voting to allow local government’s increased powers to take your land, home and business were the four usual liberal suspects: Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer and Stevens. Siding with them, as he has done increasingly over years, was Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy.
The Great Communicator must be rolling over in his grave these days about that appointment. Caving in to the political pressures against outstanding dream nominee Robert Bork was one thing, but compromising with the increasingly nightmarish Kennedy has to be considered a whole other matter entirely. The libs got all those years with Reagan, and ended up with one of their own on the top bench anyway.
But back to the matter at hand. The case that the court was deciding involved the small Connecticut town of New London. A few years back, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Corporation decided that it wanted to locate a facility in the town. Good news for local business, right? Everyone in the community on board. The trouble started when the commission formed to evaluate the plans for the Pfizer development decided to get ambitious.
Plans began to expand in city officials’ minds for an entire waterfront business park initiative. They foresaw hotels, clubs, restaurants, even a new Coast Guard Museum, all attached to the Pfizer property and aimed at bringing tourists to the area. Problem was, some folks owned houses in the development area, and they didn’t want to sell.
Now, no one is arguing against the validity of the overall theory of ‘Eminent Domain’. I am fairly certain that the vast majority of us recognize the need to make compromises between the legitimate needs of a growing community for such items as roads, hospitals, and public buildings such as schools, and police and fire operations.
But what the Supreme Court did here was to lift any and all restrictions on government as they pursue your land for any purpose that they deem to be worthy, no matter your objections. Oh sure, you will be able to have your day in court. And sure, you will receive ‘just compensation’, whatever ‘just’ happens to mean to some allegedly neutral arbitrator.
Writing the minority opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor summed it up succinctly in stating "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory." Or to bring it to your mind maybe a little more closely, your own home that you and your family currently live in for some facility that the city fathers feel will bring a hoped-for economic boon to your city or town.
Do you trust John Street or Ed Rendell or Bob Brady with making the determination that a new concert hall, stadium, conference center, or hotel is better for Philadelphia than your own neighborhood of twin, single or row homes? Didn’t think so, but that is exactly what this ruling will now allow to happen.
In his watershed 1953 classic “The Conservative Mind”, considered by many to be the bible of the current surge forward in American conservatism, Russell Kirk provided in the very first chapter for the six canons of conservative thought. Briefly they are:
- Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.
- Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence.
- Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes.
- Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked.
- Faith in prescription and distrust of those who would reconstruct society along abstract designs.
- Recognition that change may not be salutary reform (not hasty).
It is in the absolute violation of the fourth of the canons by the Supremes in their ruling that we must all now be concerned, whether liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, black or white, rich or poor, business owner and home owner alike. “Separate property from private possession”, explained Kirk, “and Leviathan becomes master of all.”