On June 23, 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in a 5-to-4 decision, that the government has the right to condemn private property and transfer title over to other private individuals or private corporations simply to stimulate economic development and/or create a larger tax base.
The city council of New London, Conn., had decided to confiscate some acreage within its boundaries and turn it over to a group of private business owners called the New London Development Corp., whereupon 15 existing private homes would be demolished and replaced with a hotel complex, offices and other structures.
Naturally, the owners of the 15 existing homes were outraged. The structures are in fine shape, in a quiet neighborhood, with an ocean view. Some of the homes had been in the family of the residents since 1901.
The four most conservative justices on the Supreme Court (William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) all sided with the homeowners. Sandra Day O'Connor wrote a strongly worded dissent, noting that "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."
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution allows governments to seize private property and convert it into "public use." This is called eminent domain. It's a tool used by the government to procure required land when constructing roadways, public schools, government facilities, military installations and so forth.
The block of liberal justices (John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy) apparently concluded that turning private property over to other private individuals who aspire to make the property more profitable for the local government would somehow classify it as public usage.
Fortunately, nobody wants my property unless they have a fetish for chiggers and ticks.
Presently, eight states (Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington) have laws forbidding the use of eminent domain for economic development.
It all started about a million years ago or 13,600 years ago or 6,000 years ago, depending on your source of reference. Humans magically came into being and soon gathered in small tribes of hunter/gatherers. There was no such thing as eminent domain. You either held your ground against encroaching neighbors or moved on.
Then one day an inspired experimenter concocted alcoholic beverages. Men quickly became fond of whiskey and beer; naturally, women were forbidden to partake in such manly indulgences. Soon thereafter, the wheel was invented to transport men to the alcoholic beverages or deliver the alcoholic beverages to men.
Grains, hops and grapes were required to produce alcoholic beverages, thus the beginning of agriculture.
Workers were required for the breweries and warehouses, thus the beginning of permanent villages.
In the early days, macho men hunted animals to barbecue at night while consuming alcoholic beverages. They became known as conservatives. Less aggressive men, known as girly-men, learned to live off the conservatives by showing up at the barbecues to do the cleaning, sewing and hair dressing. They started the liberal movement.
As time went on, conservatives created enterprises and hired other conservatives who were compelled to work for a living. Liberals prefer to govern the producers and decide what to do with the production.
Conservatives work hard to acquire property and believe strongly in property ownership. Liberals believe "it takes a village" to provide for their needs and feel entitled to a hefty portion of the success of others. They feel no shame in seizing private property in order to give the village (and themselves) an economic boost.
So if it weren't for booze, there would be no such thing as the wheel, agriculture, villages, conservatives, liberals and eminent domain. We'd still be self-employed, tax-exempt, free-spirited hunter/gathers.
And we'd deal off land grabbers the old-fashioned way -- without the aid of lawyers, supreme or otherwise.
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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.