Far Reaching and Dangerous: The Supreme Court

A friend of mine is the wife of a pastor of what was a thriving, growing church in Southern California. The city approached the church about buying their property in order to build a road through their land. The church had to move, now meets in an elementary school about 20 miles away from their original location and continue to search for property. They didn’t have a choice but they understood the reasonability of the city’s request.

They continue to pay the price, now years later. Their membership dropped (because of the location). That means that their revenue dropped significantly. The funds they need to buy property (keep in mind that this is Southern California…not the easiest or least expensive place to buy land) are now being used to rent office, storage and service facilities. As difficult as it is, the request and purchase of their land went without dispute because of the legitimacy of the need.

According to the Constitution, my friend's story falls completely within the realm of the Fifth Amendment, and the government's right to seize property for the common good."Nor shall any person be…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. " (Amendment V, The Constitution)

The government had the right to take their property (with ‘just compensation,’ of course) because of the above-quoted clause in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. But, it has the right to do so based on this whole notion of “public use.”

"Public Use" defined: The government's condemnation of private property for public use such as schools, streets, highways, hospitals, government buildings, parks, water reservoirs, flood control, slum clearance and redevelopment, public housing, public theaters and stadiums, safety facilities, harbors, bridges, railroads, airports, terminals, prisons, jails, public utilities, canals, and numerous other purposes designated as beneficial to the public.

The framers did not intend that the city leaders in Los Angeles, for example, would show up at my door one day telling me that they need to buy my house from me because McDonald’s thought it would be a great spot for business. While that transaction might in time actually create a legitimate public need for a hospital in the same area, the Fifth Amendment would not protect the proposition. It's an outrageous prospect to anyone respecting private property and the Constitution. Surely, the Supreme Court knows better. Right? Wrong!

Apparently, what's cut and dry to anyone reading the Fifth Amendment was not so cut-and-dry to the Court, as last week's ruling gave a private company the right to buy an individual's property and, as such, redefined 'public use' to include bringing in revenue to the state. It is outrageous.

The job of the Supreme Court is to interpret and to apply the constitution to specific cases. They are to interpret the Constitution, not enforce or legislate, not to rewrite and definitely not to ignore it. I’m tempted to mail each of the Justices a copy of the Constitution. I say that because I cannot see how they came to their decision to allow a private company to take an individual’s property where there was no public use issue. The state would simply stand to gain more revenue from the company’s presence.

Here’s Justice Steven’s justification:
“Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government…Clearly, there is no basis for exempting economic development from our traditionally broad understanding of public purpose.”

He also said that the plan "unquestionably serves a public purpose," even though it was intended to increase jobs and tax revenue rather than remove blight.

Justice Thomas called the decision “far reaching and dangerous,” as it would hurt the less powerful. Justice O’Conner regretted the decision, “The government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more…The founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”

It’s not over. I believe that it’s only a matter of time before the issue shows up a the foot of the Court again. There is no way that freedom-loving, constitution-reading citizens of this country will tolerate this kind of depsotism. There is no way that the Supreme Court can continue to disregard the constitution altogether and not expect a challenge.

I also believe that it’s incumbent upon us to let our Senators know exactly how what we think about the Constitution being stepped on yet again by the men and women in black robes. Let’s see to it that the next appointees to the Court read and honor the document to which they’re bound.

"The Court is most vulnerable and comes nearest to illegitimacy when it deals with judge-made constitutional law having little or no cognizable roots in the language or design of the Constitution." Byron White


At 7/06/2005 03:45:00 PM, Anonymous Jaime E. Smith said...

A person's right to ownerhsip of property, and the laws protecting it, has produced an entreprenuerial and investment oriented society. The American dream of "rags to riches" exists because of the economic opportunity and ownership rights Americans enjoy. Opportunism has now turned to greed as those who have become wealthy because of these very rights, want to destroy them. This ruling threatens the individual ownership of businesses and single family homes and potentially destabilizes families as it destabilized the church in Southern California.

Yes, this issue may eventually be brought before the Supreme Court again and hopefully wrong will be righted. I agree that we should pressure our U.S. Sentors and let them know exactly what we think, especially during this critical time when President Bush will be making his nomination of the next Supreme Court Justice. I also hope that we can pass legislation at the state level to protect property rights and create boundaries for government acquisition of private property by further defining public use.

The Supreme Court's ruling poses the greatest threat to residents at the mercy of city councils and local officials, who receive a majority of their campaign contributions from local real estate developers. Two weeks ago Southwest Housing Corp., a low-income residential housing developer in Dallas, TX, and three Dallas City Councilmen's offices were raided by the FBI due an investigation linking their business relationships and council rulings. All city councilmen have stated no wrong doing and the FBI has not commented at this time. This is one of many examples I could give of the tight connection between local politics and local developers.

We can pressure our state representatives to act on our behalf and pass legislation in their next session protecting the individual ownership of property. At least this is a viable option in Texas. I am not familiar with the legislature in California.

At 7/06/2005 04:54:00 PM, Blogger Layman said...

The replacement of Justice O'Connor is going to be monumental. Already there are news reports that both sides have amassed as much money as spent by Kerry and Bush in the last election.

Here are a number of blogs that will be following all the nitty gritty of the confirmation process:








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