Friday, June 24, 2005

23: “…With Local Implications”, Part 2

Continued from Number 22: “…With Local Implications”, Part 1

Mark June 22, 2005 on your calendars. It was significant not just because the State Supreme Court upheld a state law that has serious ethical shortcomings, but because the sound you heard coming from Washington, D.C. was the sound of your right to own property being yanked out from under you. In the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, it states, “No person shall be… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The U.S. Government website “US Info”, put up by the Federal Department of State says in a section on the right to own property:

“But the right to own and enjoy property has always been an important part of the rights of the people. At the Philadelphia convention that drafted the Constitution, John Rutledge of South Carolina reminded the delegates that "property was certainly the principal object of Society." They did not really need much reminding, because the Framers all believed that respect for an individual's property rights lay at the heart of the social contract. Not only did they build institutional safeguards into the Constitution to protect those rights, but the nation soon added important provisions through the Bill of Rights to buttress that protection. Moreover, the Founders did not intend that these protections extend only to land or discernible assets, but to all the rights inherent in property — real or personal, tangible or intangible. They believed that property was "the guardian of every other right," for without the right to own and use and enjoy one's property free from arbitrary governmental interference, there could be no liberty of any sort.”

The Supreme Court decision issued on Wednesday has immense implications, and we can use as an example the casino issue here in Gettysburg. For example, in a recent news article in the Gettysburg Times, (an article that looked more like a Hollywood spin story!), local developer Robert Monahan stated the casino was a done deal, and if he didn’t build it, it would still get built here. Let us assume that Mr. Monahan suddenly develops a civic conscience and decides not to built the casino on his property. Perhaps he might do this because the property is adjoined by a Straban Township Park that the township can not get rid of, and must use as a recreation or education facility under federal law. Currently, the park is home to several ball fields where local youth play baseball. Hardly a suitable neighbor for a casino, don’t you think? Anyway, this open up Straban Township to declare eminent domain on any homeowners, any farmers, to give up their property so a casino can be built on it.

A fantasy? Hardly. After the Supreme Court of the United States says the township can take your land and give it to a developer for private development, there is nothing fantastic about the above scenario. Here’s what that “US Info website says about property rights and eminent domain.

“Ownership in land — the most tangible, and in the early days of the Republic, the most important form of property — had never meant absolute control over that property or an unfettered right to use it in any way the owner wanted. Traditions going back to English common law have always placed restrictions on property. The common law doctrine of nuisance, for example, prevented owners from using their land in a way that interfered unreasonably with the rights of their neighbors. Custom often allowed hunting on private, unenclosed land, or required that an owner allow access to rivers and lakes. Property in the form of businesses also had regulations on them; taverns, ferries and coach lines, for example, were often heavily regulated in both England and the North American colonies. Governments could and did tax individual wealth, and while most people recognize the importance of taxes in providing governmental services, taxation is a taking of property from individuals. Perhaps the most drastic form of interference with private property rights is the concept of eminent domain, by which authorities can compel the transfer of property from a private owner to the government for a public purpose, such as the building of a road or canal.”

The Supreme Court extends the end use of eminent domain to private development now. With one stroke of the pen, the United State Supreme Court has wiped out any Constitutional protections for property owners. Justice O’Connor’s warning in the dissenting opinion is already too late. Private and political interests with power and money now can seize property at will, using YOUR tax dollars to do it, and allow the developers to make their profits on that land.

To beat this back will require an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Continued in Number 24: “…With Local Implications,” Part 3

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