Saturday, June 25, 2005

Letters to the New York Times

When was the last time that all the letters to the New York Times agreed with Scalia and Thomas? The response to Kelo is unanimous in the letters section today. Wendy Miller sums things up well:

To the Editor:

Regarding those being evicted, you refer cavalierly to those "who will, in any case, be fully compensated" (editorial, June 24).

How, may I ask, do you fully compensate an 87-year-old woman who is being evicted from the home in which she was born and in which she probably wanted to die?

I wonder if you will feel the same way when the government decides that it needs to evict you from your home with "full compensation."

Having been evicted from rentals because of change of ownership and condo conversions, I once believed that as an owner, I could at last be secure in my own home. Obviously, that is true only until such time as the government decides that it needs my home for the "public good."

Wendy Miller

San Rafael, Calif., June 24, 2005

Another Picture of the Gambles' Home

The Oral Argument

I was reviewing the oral argument from Kelo and found this interesting:

13JUSTICE BREYER: Justice Douglas says
14 there that as long as it's an objective within
15 Congress and legislature's legitimate grant of power,
16 they can do it, I mean, as long as there's a -- so
17 why does there have to be a limit within that broad
18 limit?

19 MR. BULLOCK: Well, Your Honor, the limit
20 is that there cannot be takings for private use.

21 JUSTICE BREYER: Of course, there can't,
22 purely. But there is no taking for private use that
23 you could imagine in reality that wouldn't also have
24 a public benefit of some kind, whether it's
25 increasing jobs or increasing taxes, et cetera.

1 That's a fact of the world.

2 And so given that fact of the world, that
3 is law, why shouldn't the law say, okay, virtually
4 every taking is all right, as long as there is some
5 public benefit which there always is and it's up to
6 the legislature.

7 MR. BULLOCK: Your Honor, we think that
8 that cuts way too broadly.

9 JUSTICE BREYER: Because?

10 MR. BULLOCK: Because then every property,
11 every home, every business can then be taken for any
12 private use.

13 JUSTICE BREYER: No. It could only be
14 taken if there is a public use and there almost
15 always is.
You can almost always claim that there is a public benefit to the use of eminent domain. You can always talk about tax dollar generation or additional jobs, or just beautification.

Under Breyer's conception of the takings clause, there is virtually no constitutional protection against the taking of your home or business, so long as just compensation is paid.

Doesn't Scalia nail the issue in the following exchange?
11 JUSTICE SOUTER: Well, I'm not interested
12 in the label. I'm just saying if the government says
13 we need to increase the tax base because we have a
14 depressed city, so we are going to take some of our
15 tax money now, and we are just going to buy up
16 property that people are willing to sell to us, and
17 we are going to assemble parcels. And when we get a
18 big enough one, we are going to sell them to a
19 developer for industrial purposes. And that will,
20 that will raise the tax base. Is there anything
21 illegitimate as a purpose for governmental spending
22 in doing that?

23 MR. BULLOCK: No, Your Honor. We do not
24 believe that that would be -- it's not a public use.

25 JUSTICE SOUTER: Why isn't there a public
1 purpose here?

2 MR. BULLOCK: Well, Your Honor, because
3 this case affects the eminent domain power, which is
4 regulated by the Fifth Amendment -5

JUSTICE SOUTER: No, but we are talking
6 about -- I mean, I realize that, but I mean, I
7 thought your point was that it was use of eminent
8 domain power for an improper purpose. And you
9 characterize that purpose as conveying property to
10 private owners.

11 Well, in my example, the same thing is
12 going on except that it's not using the eminent
13 domain power. If the purpose in my example is a
14 proper public purpose, why isn't it a proper public
15 purpose when the government does it by eminent
16 domain? What changes about the purpose?

17 MR. BULLOCK: Your Honor, because of the
18 public use restriction of the Amendment. That's what
19 we really -20

JUSTICE SCALIA: Mr. Bullock, do you
21 equate purpose with use? Are the two terms the same?
22 Does the public use requirement mean nothing more
23 than that it have a public purpose?

24 MR. BULLOCK: No, Your Honor.

25 JUSTICE SCALIA: That's your answer to
1 Justice Souter.

The St. Louis Blues

Another family is about to lose their home:
A South St. Louis family say its disappointed with Thursday's Supreme Court decision on eminent domain. The family could end up losing its house to a local developer.

You can't miss the Thompson's home in South St. Louis. It's the only one that's not boarded up. That's because the family decided not to sell to a local developer interested in building a shopping center in its place. The Thompson's took their fight to the court. Thursda
y, the Supreme Court ruled local governments can take people's homes against their will for private development. What the ruling does for the Thompson's case is remove any argument under the U.S. Constitution.

The President's Response--Not Enough

Here's the White House's answer to a question about the Kelo decision:

Q Thank you. Scott, does the President plan to introduce legislation to counter the Supreme Court's decision on eminent domain? Isn't a man's home his castle?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, on the Supreme Court decision from yesterday, we were not a party to that case. The President has always been a strong supporter of private property rights. Obviously, we have to respect the decisions of the Supreme Court, and we do.
That's an okay "first of all," but there was no "second of all." We need a "second of all." We need the President to lead on this issue. Sure, he respects the decision--as he must. But he can also push for a Constitutional Amendment to protect people's homes. Bush has come out in favor of a (stupid) amendment to save flags. Aren't homes and family businesses more important?

Chicago, Chicago--That Store Stealin' Town

It seems like seven times out of ten, it's condos. Cities love their condos:

Eminent domain gives a city the power to take private land -- for a fair price -- so long as the deal benefits the public. A Connecticut case awaiting an important ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is mirrored by many eminent domain cases across the country including the fight over a Jefferson Park bike shop.

They all ask the question, "when is it proper for a public
body to take private land for what will be private use?" Don Zordani is a former bicycle racing champion who has made his living selling bikes. Nearly 35 years ago, he bought an old Jewell store in Jefferson Park and turned it into a shop that has had -- over the years -- a sizable clientele.

The city wants to take the bike shop and surrounding properties and allow a private developer to build a seven story condominium tower.


Zordani sees that as an abuse of the city's power to condemn.
"This is not something for the city or the park district, or a school. it would just be for a private developer to make the lot of profit," said Don Zordani.

Stop Abuse Near Syracuse

If you live in Central New York state, make your feelings known about this:
This spring, representatives for DestiNY and OCIDA crafted an agreement regarding the proposed R&D Park in Salina. Wednesday morning, the OCIDA Board held a meeting to discuss the agreement and possibly vote on it. But neither a discussion nor a vote took place.

"Members of the agency are in favor of the project and would like the project to succeed. At the same time, we have an obligation to those families who own businesses and work for the businesses that are in Phase 3," said OCIDA Chairman Robert Baldwin.

Phase 3 beings the part of the agreement in which OCIDA agrees to use eminent domain to condemn more than two dozen Salina businesses to make way for the R&D Park.

Phil Jakes-Johnson represents Solvents and Petroleum in Salina. He sees OCIDA's decision to hold off on a vote as a sign the board is seriously considering his group's objection to eminent domain.

"OCIDA Board members, volunteer board members, are giving due deliberation to magnitude of this agreement," he said.
Again, people are trying to do something about this.

Eminent Domain Abuse Hurts Families

This isn't just about homes. It's about families. Like the Dudko family (watch the video--It will break your heart):

A Bristol family knows all too well about eminent [domain]. Their homes and land were taken by the city for economic development last year.

"I hate to see it happen to anyone because I lived through it", says Mary Dudko.

The crushed up wood pile used to be a 100 year old farmhouse. The city demolished the home and their land under eminent domain.

The family says the city told them they wanted about 40 acres of their land for economic development to expand their industrial park for more property taxes. The family kept saying no, but after a seven year fight, they were forced out.

"We definitely did not get fair market value. That doesn't happen", says Mike Dudko.

Michael Dudko says the family was given less than half of what the land was worth. What he finds unfair is the city hasn't done anything with the land. That is because Yarde Metals, the company that was going to move in, gave up after a long court battle.

Dudko says the family may have felt differently if the city was building a road, or doing something for public use, and not giving away their heritage for private gain.

"I think some of our freedoms are disappearing because of economics. Money is really starting to rule this country", says Dudko.

More Trouble in Texas

The Kelo decision has emboldened developers and their political buddies. Like this, in Freeport, Texas (watch the video):

You dreamed of the day you would own it. You saved money to buy it and hoped to live in it for years. So what would you do if the city bulldozed your home in the name of economic development? It can.
The city wants to use eminent domain to take 300 feet of Western Seafood's property for private economic development.

The United States Supreme Court ruled Thursday local governments may take homes and businesses, even against the owner's will, to build shopping mall or hotels.

It's a landmark decision with huge implications. It's being closely watched in Freeport where there is a power struggle over property.

For more than half a century, shrimp boats have docked outside Western Seafood in Freeport. It is one of the few businesses along the Brazos River -- at least for now.

"When people hear about eminent domain, they usually think about roads and bridges and tunnels being built," said Wright Gore, business owner. "But in this case, this is purely for taking from one private property owner and giving to another. And in this case it's our next door neighbor."

Gore is trying to save his grandfather's business. The city wants to use eminent domain to take 300 feet of Western Seafood's property and let developers who own the adjacent land build a marina, restaurants and a hotel along the waterfront.

"This is to take an area that is very much underutilized and to utilize it to the fullest extent to move this city forward," said Mayor Jim Phillips, Freeport.

New businesses would generate new revenue for the city.

Freeport said it now gets about $37,000 in property taxes from the area. The city estimates that after the area is redeveloped, taxes would bring in $400,000 a year to Freeport.
It looks like people are trying to do something about it.

Football is More Important that Freedom in Dallas

We all love NFL football, right? If you want to give up your home to make way for a new stadium and condos, well, that's your right. But if you'd rather keep your home, I guess you're just out of luck. If this bothers you, write to the Dallas Cowboys and let them know:

The Arlington City Council is expected to authorize on Tuesday eminent domain proceedings against as many as 19 properties needed for a new Dallas Cowboys stadium and approve resolutions paving the way for 33 more condemnations in the coming weeks.

Mayor Robert Cluck said the properties are owned by individuals who are either unwilling to sell or are demanding an unreasonable price for their homes or lots. Some have not responded to the city's offers, he said, and a few would not allow city negotiators on their property. "If they can't make reasonable counteroffers," Dr. Cluck said, "we have to use this tool."

City officials said they would continue to negotiate with property owners through Tuesday to try to avoid the need for condemnation. However, Dr. Cluck said, some homeowners are unlikely to settle without legal action.

The city's announcement came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision confirming that cities have wide latitude in condemning property for economic development purposes. That decision, which Dr. Cluck said didn't affect the timing of next week's votes, means that federal appeals of condemnations for the stadium in Arlington are unlikely.

Robert Magnus, whose house is on the condemnation list, said he was unaware of the City Council's vote next week, but he's not surprised. He had hoped that the Supreme Court would help him with its Kelo v. New London case.

Mr. Magnus would not say how much the city has offered him for the house he's owned for two years, but he said it wasn't enough to pay off his mortgage.
"They are just giving me pennies and telling me to get out," he said.

A Good Start in Connecticut

Some promising news:

A day after a ruling by the Supreme Court cleared the way for the city of New London to replace a residential neighborhood with a private development, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said on Friday that the Connecticut legislature "ought to consider" the state's eminent domain laws.

Mrs. Rell, a Republican, issued a cautious response to the closely watched court ruling, one that found economic development, not just blight removal, an appropriate use of the government's power of eminent domain. Last year, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain to take 15 homes in New London that were condemned in 2000.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Join the Castle Coalition


If you want to do something about eminent domain abuse, join the Castle Coalition, created by the Institute for Justice to help victims of eminent domain abuse.

This group has had great success, and obviously, there's a lot more to be done.

Eugene Volokh explains:


Kelo was litigated by the Institute of Justice, a first-rate libertarian public interest law firm; I think it's much to their credit that they could get even 4 votes -- the last case that squarely considered this issue, Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff (1984), was unanimous, and Justice O'Connor and Chief Justice Rehnquist were on the side of the government there. I don't agree with them entirely as to Kelo, but I still very much respect their work, in this case and in others.

IJ has also been very successful fighting battles in lower courts, either under state constitutions or getting policies struck down under the "rational basis" test, the same test that now applies in the eminent domain "public use" analysis. Constitutional scholars may tell you that rational basis cases are virtually impossible to win (at least unless the courts conclude that the law improperly discriminates against some group, almost never an economically defined group). But IJ somehow manages to win them.

Finally, the IJ people are masters at using their cases to marshal public opinion. That often helps them pressure the government to change its policy even without a final decision in litigation. And it also helps them use cases, whether they win them or lose them, to build pro-economic-liberty sentiment generally; they're especially good at showing how economic liberty helps the little guy.

The Danger of Apathy

Right now, there is a lot of outrage about Kelo and eminent domain abuse. But in a few days, most people will have moved on, and the press will be covering the next runaway bride. Meanwhile, more people will lose their homes so that we can have more Wal-Marts and condos. I love Wal-Marts and condos. I just don't like kicking people out of their homes to build them. And I hope you don't either.

Politicians don't mind kicking people out of their homes because it doesn't cost them many votes. If 10 homes are taken for a Wal-Mart, the politicians may lost 10 votes. But thousands of people will shop at the Wal-Mart, and many of them will be glad for the development. So politicians figure they can't really lose.

We need to make them lose. It's not enough that the 10 people kicked out of their homes are outraged. We all need to be outraged. We need to go to public meetings, write letters to our papers, and boycott the companies that profit from eminent domain abuse. We need to vote people out of the office. We need to get our states to restrict eminent domain abuse. And if this doesn't work, we need to amend the Constitution.

Please keep this issue alive, even if another bride decides to run away.
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Hope in Texas

Rep. Frank Corte Jr. is trying to do something about eminent domain abuse in Texas:

Texas' cultural commitment to private property rights surfaced quickly Thursday as a state legislator moved to blunt the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that local governments may seize land for private development.

Hours after the court's 5-4 ruling came down, Rep. Frank Corte Jr., R-San Antonio, said he would seek "to defend the rights of property owners in Texas" by proposing a state constitutional amendment limiting local powers of eminent domain, or condemnation.

Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels offered assurances that the city and county do not intend to condemn land for private development projects.

But officials in the beachfront town of Freeport, south of Houston, said they would move aggressively to condemn property owned by two seafood companies to clear the way for an $8 million private marina.
. . .
Corte said he would ask Gov. Rick Perry to add the condemnation issue to the agenda of the special legislative session now under way so that the proposed constitutional amendment could appear on the November ballot.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor would consider requests to add items to the agenda, but probably not until legislators resolve the school finance issue. She said Perry supports property rights and was concerned about the Supreme Court ruling.

Corte said in a news release that his proposed amendment would "limit a local governmental entity's power of eminent domain, preventing them from bulldozing residences in favor of private developers."

Forcing 500 People to Move

More in New Jersey:

SOME CALL IT BLIGHT, THEY CALL IT HOME
Thursday, June 23, 2005
BY ANA M. ALAYA Star-Ledger Staff


Beatrice Lambert, a 63-year-old legal secretary, worries about losing her cats, Tinkerbell and Abigail, and the garden she dedicated to her late son, if she's forced to sell the mobile home she's lived in for 20 years.

Joe Depamphilis, a 39-year-old handyman with a failing kidney and an ailing mother, is concerned he won't find affordable storage space for the tools he has amassed over two decades.

"We're worried about losing a way of life," said Lambert, a resident of Brown's Trailer Court.

"We put down our roots here," Depamphilis said.

What Lambert and Depamphilis see as home, borough officials see differently. They see 20 acres of blight on prime real estate bordering Route 46 in Lodi.

If a judge upholds Lodi's plans to replace two trailer parks, Brown's and the nearby Costa Trailer Court, with upscale senior housing and shops, nearly 500 residents will need to relocate.

Reform Efforts Watered Down in Indiana

How does a good bill get watered down? Like this:

State Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, sponsored a bill during this year's legislative session that would have prohibited property seizures for "commercial use" such as residential, retail or industrial development. He called Thursday's court ruling "absolutely wrong."

Wolkins' bill was amended to instead authorize formation of a study committee to help set guidelines for such seizures, including how much money should be paid displaced property owners and the relative significance of blight and potential economic development.

Crisis in New Jersey

Eminent Domain abuse is rampant in New Jersey:

In 55 N.J. towns, planners watch as the light turns green
Friday, June 24, 2005
BY ALEXANDER LANE Star-Ledger Staff


To a growing number of New Jerseyans, yesterday's Supreme Court decision was a very personal defeat.

They are those whose towns have instructed them to hand their property over to private developers, for the greater good.

Many are struggling small business owners in the grittier parts of town -- not the sort who normally make time to follow Supreme Court decisions.
But they were waiting for this one.


"It's sort of shocking to read what these judges have come up with on that there New London (Connecticut)," said Sal Quagliariello, an 83-year-old Edison man fighting an attempt to turn his bus company into a Walgreens.

"It seems like money has got the best of the laws."

The Victory Against IKEA

Sometimes the good guys win the political battle:

Veterans of the IKEA battle have words of advice for Connecticut residents who may lose their homes because the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain to benefit private developers: Keep fighting.

"If they stick together, they can fight it," said Albert L. Jones, 83, a retired custodian who battled to keep his house at 59 Pleasant St., where he has lived about 60 years.


The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision was a blow to the owners of 15 homes in a working-class New London, Conn., neighborhood. The homes are slated for destruction to make way for a hotel, office space and upscale homes.
Eminent domain controversies have flared in Westchester in recent years, but none was as incendiary as IKEA's plans to obtain dozens of properties — homes, businesses and two churches — for a 308,000-square-foot furniture store in New Rochelle. The company scrapped its plans in 2001.
But news of the Supreme Court's decision yesterday, affirming that governments can force people to sell land for private development, stirred bad memories for David Newmark, who was a leader in the fight against IKEA.


"It's a step backward," said Newmark, president of Vernon Devices, a business on Plain Avenue, where the store would have been built.

New Rochelle did not use eminent domain to obtain land for IKEA, but the city administration considered the idea. . . .

Throughout the New Rochelle controversy, City Council members said they hoped IKEA could reach agreements to buy all the properties willingly. The city was eager for the sales tax revenue that the project promised, seeing it as a way to improve services like police protection for all of New Rochelle.

But the council members held throughout the discussions that they had not made up their minds and were listening to residents' concerns.
And in the end, that helped kill the project — not just those who wanted to keep their homes and businesses, but Larchmont and Mamaroneck residents who objected to what they saw as a traffic nightmare. IKEA said it was New Rochelle's demand that the company build a ramp off Interstate 95 to the project that made it unworkable.

No Hooray for Hollywood

Another sad case. There are thousands just like it:

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- A landmark decision by the Supreme Court regarding eminent domain paves the way for local government to take your home or business to make way for private development -- and that's exactly what's happening to a business owner in downtown Hollywood.

For 35 years, the Mach family has been cutting nails and doing nails in their building on the corner of Harrison Street and 19th Avenue.
George Mach and his wife Kaitlin purchased the building in 1971. Their son says the couple not only ran the business, they raised their family there.


David Mach said, "I worked here when I was a kid. I worked the register and met all the old customers."


He says his folks rejected several requests to sell the building over the years, but the latest offer is one the family can't refuse. The city of Hollywood is moving to seize the building through eminent domain, which allows governments to take private property for public use. The city plans to put a $100 million condominium on the site.

Self-Interested New York Times

Not surprisingly, the New York Times praised the Kelo decision:

The Supreme Court's ruling yesterday that the economically troubled city of New London, Conn., can use its power of eminent domain to spur development was a welcome vindication of cities' ability to act in the public interest.

Of course, the New York Times editorial board did not reveal the paper's very personal interest in the legal issue. As 60 Minutes reported last year:

And this isn't happening just in small towns. In New York City, just a few blocks from Times Square, New York State has forced a man to sell a corner that his family owned for more than 100 years. And what's going up instead? A courthouse? A school? Nope. The new headquarters of The New York Times.

The world's most prestigious newspaper wants to build a new home on that block, but Stratford Wallace and the block's other property owners didn't want to sell. Wallace told 60 Minutes that the newspaper never tried to negotiate with him. Instead, The Times teamed up with a major real estate developer, and together they convinced New York State to use eminent domain to force Wallace out. How? By declaring the block blighted.

“I challenge them,” says Wallace. “This is not blighted property.”

But New York State's Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that the newspaper's new headquarters would eliminate blight - and that even though a private entity (The New York Times) is the main beneficiary, improving the block would benefit the public. Executives from The New York Times wouldn't talk to 60 Minutes about it on camera.

UPDATE: Either I missed it before or the Times has updated its editorial to acknowledge "The New York Times benefited from eminent domain in clearing the land for the new building it is constructing opposite the Port Authority Bus Terminal." I apologize if the error is mine.

UPDATE II: Bird Dog comments that I was right, and that the Times didn't originally have the disclosure in its editorial.

It's not just the politicians

Don't just blame the politicians that are using the force of government to kick people out of their homes to make way for big business. Blame the businesses too! If a business is using your local government to force people out of their homes, let the business know that you will refuse to use their services or buy their goods. Lead a boycott against the development.

Senators, Congressmen, Lend Us Your Ears

Let Washington know that you want to prohibit government entities from taking private property for private purposes. Contact your Senator here and your Representative here.

Wonderful, Wonderful Utah

We need to convince more states to follow Utah's lead in banning eminent domain abuse:

The U.S. Supreme Court's pro-city decision Thursday has no implication for Utah landowners.

That's because the state never has opened the door to cities to use condemnation purely for economic development (as in the Connecticut case), and Utah lawmakers recently approved a prohibition against cities wielding that power in so-called "blighted" areas.

Utah cities had resorted to eminent domain in the past within redevelopment agencies to buy land from unwilling sellers for economic development purposes.

When the Legislature passed the ban in March, Ogden was in the middle of a fight with a handful of downtown homeowners whose refusal to sell was blocking city plans to see a Super Wal-Mart built on the 21-acre site. The bill blocked the RDA condemnation and set up Utah to be unaffected by Thursday's decision.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Process of Amendment

Article V of the Constitution sets forth the procedures available for amendment:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Recreational Takings

Well, I guess there no better "public use" than an RV dealership:

When Cathedral City City Council voted in March to exercise eminent domain over one of the largest undeveloped pieces of property left in the city, it was seeking to put about 60 acres of land together for possible development.

The 12 small business owners in the area - ranging from the Villa Bakery to Jaguars Only - and the landowners of the area near Sarah Street and Ramon Road were told the city did not have a development plan on the table.

But with the approval on Wednesday of a possible 40-acre RV dealership north of Ramon Road. that has changed - and some of the landowners say they have been taken by surprise.

The City Council approved this week a memorandum of understanding with Merritt RV to negotiate the possibility of building an RV sales and service station on 40 of 63 vacant acres north of Ramon Road.

The business fits part of the profile that city planners had mentioned in calling for the power of eminent domain: A big business that will generate much-needed sales tax for the cash-strapped city's general fund.

The plan is moving fast and some of the landowners are stunned.

A portion of the 40 acres is owned by Dr. Kurt Bochner of Palm Springs and his son Clifford Bochner of Murrieta. The elder Bochner did not return calls for comment, Friday, but said at the council meeting Wednesday that he had planned to develop the land and leave it to his kin as his legacy.
"I'm kind of emotionally shook," Bochner told the City Council before it voted to approve the memorandum of understanding.. "(The city had) assured us that there weren't any (other bidders for the land)."

But as Bochner realized, he doesn't have the final say over what happens to his legacy.

Here's a Google view of the property.

What is Congress Doing?

Instead of protecting our homes, Congress is busy doing things like the following from yesterday's session:

1. H.CON.RES.157 : Recognizing the artistic excellence and community value of America's 1800 orchestras.Sponsor: Rep Shays, Christopher [CT-4] (introduced 5/18/2005) Cosponsors (46) Committees: House Education and the Workforce Latest Major Action: 6/22/2005 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Select Education.

2. H.CON.RES.160 : Recognizing the historical significance of Juneteenth Independence Day, and expressing the sense of Congress that history should be regarded as a means for understanding the past and solving the challenges of the future.Sponsor: Rep Davis, Danny K. [IL-7] (introduced 5/19/2005) Cosponsors (69) Committees: House Government Reform; Senate Judiciary Latest Major Action: 6/22/2005 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

3. H.CON.RES.163 : Honoring the Sigma Chi Fraternity on the occasion of its 150th Anniversary.Sponsor: Rep Gerlach, Jim [PA-6] (introduced 5/23/2005) Cosponsors (8) Committees: House Education and the Workforce; Senate Judiciary Latest Major Action: 6/22/2005 Passed/agreed to in Senate. Status: Resolution agreed to in Senate without amendment and with a preamble by Unanimous Consent.

Honoring frats is fine and dandy, but stopping bulldozers from razing peoples' homes might be better.

Sometimes a Cigar Bar is No Longer a Cigar Bar

Here's a story from San Diego:

Opponents of the government's power to take private property will bid farewell today to one of their most celebrated San Diego fighters.

Ahmad Mesdaq, owner of the Gran Havana Cigar and Coffee Lounge, waged a spirited and costly legal battle to stop the city from taking his business to make way for a proposed Marriott Renaissance Hotel at Fifth Avenue and J Street.

"I'm really exhausted, and I'm really depressed," he said. "I cannot fight this anymore. I'm burned out."
. . .

With legal bills exceeding $500,000 and seeing few prospects for success in the courts, Mesdaq said he could no longer fight. He has been ordered to vacate the property by Wednesday for demolition.

The Gamble Family in Norwood, Ohio

In Norwood, Ohio, the Gamble family recently lost their home because the City of Norwood wanted to give their land to a developer. The Institute for Justice reports:

The Gambles’ fight to save their home began in 2003 after the Norwood City Council accepted the results of an “urban renewal study” that found the Gambles’ attractive, middle-class neighborhood to be “deteriorating” and “blighted”—and thus eligible to be taken by eminent domain Suspiciously, the study was initiated and funded by developer Anderson—the same person the Council will transfer the property to for commercial development.

Gall pointed out that some of the problems listed in the blight “study,” such as dead-end roads and traffic, were the City’s doing and beyond the control of the residents. The study itself admits that not one of the 99 homes and businesses in the area were dilapidated or behind on taxes. Perhaps most worrisome of all, one of the factors the City relied on to say that the neighborhood was “deteriorating” is that it had “diversity of ownership”—essentially, everyone owned their own single-family home or business.

“If our place was ‘deteriorating’ based on everyone owning their own home, then nearly every neighborhood in America is deteriorating and could be taken,” said homeowner Carl Gamble. “Step out your front door and look to the left and look to the right and if you see a home owned by someone else, then look out.”

“The so-called blight study was a joke and a fraud,” Gall said. “It is an outrageous example of the total buyout of a city’s eminent domain power.”


Carl Jr. and Joy Gamble.

The Kelo Amendment

The Fifth Amendment suggests that eminent domain may be used to take property only for "public use." At least, it used to.

On June 23, 2005, in Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court held that the "public use" requirement does not mean that the government has to actually use the property in order to justify a taking. The Court held that local and state governments may use eminent domain to take private property in order to give it to another private party where it might benefit the public.

Thus, if a Wal-Mart would generate more tax dollars than your home, your town can take your home (with compensation) and give it to Wal-mart.

You can read more about the facts of Kelo here. Sadly, what happened to the Kelo family is not unusual. All over the county, developers are lobbying local governments to get them to use their eminent domain power to acquire property for private developments. A catalog of these injustices can be found here.

Instead of pursuing amendments to save flags, Congress should be pursuing amendments to save homes. Something like this:

Eminent domain shall not be used to redistribute private property from one private party to another, but shall be exercised solely in where the government will own, or the public will have a legal right to use the property once it has been taken.


Okay, maybe this needs some work. But that's what this blog is all about. The open-source approach seems to work for developing software. Why not for Constitutional amendment? Let the collaboration begin.

Use the comments to give your suggestions. Maybe we'll be able to come up with something good. And maybe we can convince some Congressmen that homes are more important to save than flags.