Saturday, June 25, 2005

You've Gotta' Pick a Pocket or Two

Micah 2:1-2 (New Living Translation)

Micah 2

Judgment against Wealthy Oppressors
1 “How terrible it will be for you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry out any of the wicked schemes you have power to accomplish. 2When you want a certain piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone's house, you take it by fraud and violence. No one's family or inheritance is safe with you around!”

I’m sitting here thinking, writing, and humming a line or two from the musical “Oliver.” The words to the little ditty won’t go away, thanks to the United States Supreme Court. I think I’ll continue to keep humming them as my angry fingers pound out the words that follow:

“Dear old gent passing by
Something nice takes his eye
Everything's clear, attack the rear
Get in and pick-a-pocket or two.”

“You've got to pick-a-pocket or two, boys
You've got to pick-a-pocket or two.”

Lyrics by Lionel Bart from the Musical “Oliver”

The five pickpockets I’m thinking of are Justices Stevens, Breyer, Bader Ginsberg, Souter, and Kennedy. Unlike most thieves, these folks wear robes. It’s a clever disguise.

Until yesterday I thought that we Kansans were being abused by our state Supreme Court, but after reading what our Highest Court, a large corporation, and a local government did to the good people of New London, Connecticut, I can now smell the stench of municipal/corporate greed and judicial tyranny in the distance, wafting its way from east to west.

The court decided that the needs of municipalities and corporations trumped the right of the people displaced because of this decision. Justice Stevens only mentioned Susette Kelo and the other petitioners in passing. It was legal language that masked the majority’s disregard for Susette Kelo and the other petitioners:

“Petitioner Susette Kelo has lived in the Fort Trumbull area since 1997. She has made extensive improvements to her house, which she prizes for its water view. Petitioner Wilhelmina Dery was born in her Fort Trumbull house in 1918 and has lived there her entire life. Her husband Charles (also a petitioner) has lived in the house since they married some 60 years ago. In all, the nine petitioners own 15 properties in Fort Trumbull--4 in parcel 3 of the development plan and 11 in parcel 4A. Ten of the parcels are occupied by the owner or a family member; the other five are held as investment properties. There is no allegation that any of these properties is blighted or otherwise in poor condition; rather, they were condemned only because they happen to be located in the development area.”

Strip the legalese from Stevens’ words and it amounts to utter contempt for the “little people.”

The case, brought by Susette Kelo on behalf of a small number of petitioners who would be affected by the municipality’s use of eminent domain, was decided in favor of the municipality and the corporation(s) that stand to gain from this decision.

Developers couldn’t be more thrilled:

“Marty Jones, president of Corcoran Jennison, called the court's decision a victory not only for the New London redevelopment but also for cities around the country that are trying to incubate business development.”

“I think it's a great win,” Jones said. “There's certainly been a lot of interest in this nationwide, and it makes clear what the legal authority of cities is to do this kind of work. I certainly hope that now that this contentious issue has gone literally to the highest court in the land, people can focus on trying to come together and support economic development and some positive things that really do need to happen in the city.”

It all sounds very ominous to me. Right now here in Emporia Home Depot and Lowe’s are courting our city commission to build super-centers. This decision now gives our commission free reign to take people’s homes in the name of “development.” That, it seems to me is one very big operating umbrella.

What was especially troubling to me was that Anthony Kennedy sided with the “liberal four” in the final decision:

“A court applying rational-basis review under the Public Use Clause should strike down a taking that, by a clear showing, is intended to favor a particular private party, with only incidental or pretextual public benefits, just as a court applying rational-basis review under the Equal Protection Clause must strike down a government classification that is clearly intended to injure a particular class of private parties, with only incidental or pretextual public justifications.”

I believe what that all means in layman’s terms is that as long as long as a municipality can show that the corporation or corporations submitting “redevelopment” plans have not been “favored,” the municipality can do what it wants with the property of the folks in New London and, by extension, municipalities and courts can now do the same thing to the rest of us.

That’s dangerous stuff. In her dissent, Sandra Day O’Connor hit the nail right on the head:

“Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded--i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public--in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings “for public use” is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property--and thereby effectively to delete the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent.”

Clarence Thomas, the justice liberals love to excoriate (he’s an “Uncle Tom,” the next thing to a village idiot, etc) rendered a very eloquent dissent on behalf of those who really stand to lose because of this terrible decision. The “who” would be minorities. On the east coast that would mean principally African-Americans. Here in Emporia it would more than likely mean Hispanics:

“Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities.”

The issue decided in the case couldn’t have been more important to all of us. It will hit minorities and the poor first, but I have no doubt that it will some day impact the rest of us. It does so because it violates some sacredly held principles.

First, this decision clearly violates Judeo Christian tradition, which pre-dates the United States Supreme Court by thousands of years::

Exodus 20:17 (King James Version)

17“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.”

The decision also runs counter to our own Constitution. I believe that, by liberally interpreting the term “public use,” it violates the intent and spirit of an important provision guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

And, finally,it also violates one of the foundations of free-market economics.

How important is this right of property to all of us? F.A. Hayek put its importance brilliantly:

“To believe that the power which is thus conferred on the state is merely transferred to it from others is erroneous. It is a power which is newly created and which in a competitive society nobody possesses. So long as property is divided among many owners, none of them acting independently has exclusive power to determine the income and position of particular people – nobody is tied to any one property owner except by the fact that he may offer better terms than anybody else.”

“What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us. If all the means of production were vested in a single hand, whether it be nominally that of “society” as a whole or that of a dictator, whoever exercises this control has complete power over us.”

Hayek wrote those words as he watched socialism rise in power and stature in the days leading up to World War II. I don’t think he could ever have envisioned this type of power being exercised on behalf of municipalities and corporations in a democracy like America. But I believe it’s happened. One municipality, five judges, and a few corporations have picked the pockets of the good people of New London, Connecticut. The questions now remaining are “Who’s next?” and “What else is going to be lifted from us?”


Allan said...

I agree that this decision has overtones of statism and tyranny. However, it is nothing particularly new. Eminent domain has been used by municipalities time and again to favor commercial interests over private use.

As long as it can be shown that the new use will provide greater benefit to the community, not to mention jobs and a widened tax base courts will generally support the municipality or commercial interest.

Courts have typically required as much certainty of such benefit as is possible in a changing world, i.e., possible economic downtrend, projected customer base, etc.. But once satisfied courts tend to rule against private use.

Sad but true.

Gone Away said...

Sounds to me like worship of the great god Economics...

Jim Baxter said...

I'm glad to hear that the members of the Five have been ordered by THE PEOPLE to attend a Sensitivity Class Series in behalf of the offended parties; the Individual Citizens who are the United States of America

Class 1 of 365, will begin Tuesday, July 5th, the year of our Lord, 2005. Entitled, "Assumptions Have Consequences Psalm 14:1," the justices must earn a passing grade to avoid unlimited repeat before moving on to Class 2.

Students from Mr. Baxter's Fifth Grade (10 year olds) Class, Reseda, CA will decide the merit/demerit of the judges' responses.

Until the justices pass the class series (365 days minimum), the members of Mr. Baxter's class, 'The Choicemakers', will assume the positions of justices of the court. They will base their decisions on the precise wording of The Constitution and the Federalist Papers. (They each have a dictionary and a thesaurus.)

At the conclusion of the Sensitivity Class Series, the justices are encouraged to seek counseling from the 'The (eleven year old+) Choicemakers,' the Federalist Papers, and The Bible.

A second series of classes will be available to those who fail the first series. Fee payable payable in advance in cash only.


Douglas said...

"And in other news, the Supreme Court today declared the United States Constitution to be irrelevant, outdated, and out of touch with international jurisprudence."