Friday, July 01, 2005

Animal Farm redux

I think we all know by now that the United States Supreme Court recently voted to deny the petition of a group of home owners in New London Connecticut to overturn the city's decision to take their domiciles from them and give the properties to a private developer so that he can raze the homes and build on the land. The city claims that even though it will be used for private enterprise and not for public use as required by the original "takings" clause in the Constitution, building a shopping mall will provide jobs for residents of New London.

Three decades ago, the city of New London confiscated a private home under the takings amendment in order to construct a sea wall. Thirty five years have passed and the sea wall has yet to be built. The son of the home owner who was evicted then is one of the petitioners in the present case. The Court's new decision has provided that he will endure a second trampling of his rights under the Constitution, one which does not now have to disguise itself as being "for the public good".

The current decision has been five years in review, and at the time of the original takings decision, the city of New London determined that the home of the principal petitioner had a "fair market value" of $60,000. Because of the increase in property values over the years, the property is marketable today for something like $250,000, but according to the town politicians, a deal's a deal, and word is, only the original amount will be paid to the property owners.

We might ask ourselves what sort of living quarters can be had today for $60,000. One petitioner's family has lived in her house since 1918; she herself, now quite old, was born there. Even if the homeowners attempt to protest the out-of-date remuneration estimates they will have to appeal to the same politicians who made the decision to confiscate their homes in the first place. Any adjustment in price will be the decision of the City Council. Since the Council's argument for the private property seizure in the first place is that the town is deeply in debt and needs to "provide jobs", the homeowners are more likely than not to be rebuffed.

The Supreme Court decision, five-to-four, was strictly split along conservative/liberal lines, all the "liberal" judges voting to allow politicians to seize private property so that it can be used by another citizen for his own use, and every "conservative" judge voting to preserve private property rights against confiscation unless said property is used for public facilities which are clearly shown to be needed for the benefit of all citizens; in other words, not allowing interpretation of the takings clause in the Constitution to be anything other than it is.

At the end of all this of course, a question begs to be asked: what is liberal about allowing government seizure of private property - the homes in which people live and raise their children - so it can be turned over to another citizen - in this case a private businessman - for a profit-making endeavor, however the underlying motive of personal profit is euphemized?

This is not the first such disregard of citizens' rights under such "liberal" interpretations of our Constitution: (I'm reminded of Elian Gonzales' kidnapping, the Waco Texas massacre, and Terri Schiavo's government-sanctioned murder.)

Perhaps it is time, in this country, to re-think the terms "liberal" and "conservative".

Grey Owl