The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, June 25, 2005

DUDGEON, PART DEUX: In keeping with our new editorial policy of all high moral dudgeon all the time, permit me to get all bent out of shape about eminent domain. The Supreme Court of the United States decided this past week that a local government may use its power of eminent domain to seize the property of a private citizen and give that property to another private citizen if the second private citizen can show that by doing so the local government can charge more in taxes. The Court made this decision despite the constitution’s clear specification that governments exercise this power only when the condemned property is for public use and that the owner receives just compensation for the property. The Court’s decision is, of course, pure baloney. In his dissent Justice Thomas quite rightly points out that the majority’s decision strains history, language and credulity. Justice O’Connor filed her own dissent, in which she says that the burden of this decision will fall directly on those people least able to defend themselves against the designs of a rapacious government.

I will spare you the rest of the arguments; I am not a lawyer and other people with a better knowledge of the law can make those arguments much better than I can, but I trust you’ll allow me an observation here. This decision cannot help but lessen respect for the Court in particular and for the law in general. The Court has already placed strict limits on political speech, thereby making it next to impossible to bring up an incumbent’s record when broadcasting political advertisements. Now the Court has declared that these incumbents may take the property of private citizens at the behest of their campaign contributors. How can the public respect the law when that same public believes that the law is bought and paid for, that the people that they elect to public office to defend their interests are just so many Charlie McCarthys willing to sell their offices to the Edgar Bergen with the largest checkbook? Can the public respect its elected officials when they suspect that they are all grafters, and that the Court’s response to any reformer willing to challenge the political status quo and do the people’s business honestly is “Shut up, we said.”

I do not believe this decision will ultimately stand the test of time. This decision opens the way for situations so ripe for abuse that the Court will have to revisit Kelo in ten or twenty years, after tens of thousands of people have had their lives disrupted by the decision, disruptions the Court could have prevented in the first place by simply using a dictionary and checking what the words public and use mean.


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