US Supremes: Kiss your land goodbye
Prior to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that city councils or town boards or county commissions can condemn private homes or businesses or land and deed it or them over to private developers to make room for a shopping mall or a hotel or a casino or whatever, most owners of homes, businesses or land thought they were protected by the Bill of Rights where the Fifth Amendment says, in part: “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
It’s as plain as Brittany Spears’ famously displayed belly button that the Founding Fathers wanted to protect individual property rights by spelling out that the only circumstance in which private property could be condemned was for a public use, not a private use. And then, only used for a public use provided that just compensation is paid to the private property owner.
So, for the last 214 years, public use has meant that government could condemn private property for the building of roads, bridges, tunnels – infrastructure needed for the public good -- provided just compensation was paid to the private property owner. But not any more. Not since the liberals on the highest court in the land ruled five-to-four that we’ve had it wrong for 214 years. Now, five, black-robed lawyers think they got it right in 2005.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Conner voted with the minority in favor of the retention of private property rights as spelled out in the Fifth Amendment. So, private property owners who think the Fifth Amendment means what it says, will want President Bush to replace the about-to-leave-the-Court Justice O’Conner with a nominee who will take the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at face value, and not try to find meanings never intended by the Framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Private property owners will want O’Conner replaced with a Justice who will be for the little guy rather than a Justice who wants to give local officials the power to cut deals with megabuck developers so local officials can get more tax dollars to spend.
So, is there any hope for Mr. or Mrs. Average American? Yes, a 37 cent stamp will send how you feel to your Senators. Tell them to confirm the judicial nominees who think the way you think.
But, if the recent rape of private property rights didn’t get your attention, maybe the recent rulings on the display of The Ten Commandments on public property will. But let’s begin by asking: What’s the point of such displays?
Actually, the desire to enshrine rules of conduct in public places goes back to the ancient Greeks and to several centuries when Rome ruled the known world with the Lex Romana, creating what we know today as: Western Civilization. From the Greeks, the Romans borrowed the content of their Twelve Tablets. And, centuries before the birth of Christ, Moses brought the Jews The Ten Commandments. By putting quotations from the Greeks, the Romans, The Hebrew Scriptures and even The New Testament on display, public buildings create an aura of historical legitimacy.
When one approaches the bar of justice, it is of comfort to think that elected or appointed officials deciding your fate or your property rights will not just make up their minds about your affairs willy-nilly but, instead, will rest their decisions on conceptions of justice derived from the earliest roots of Western Civilization. (Sorry, Abdullah, we are talking Western Civilization here, not Islamic Culture. But feel free to petition our government to post something from the Koran alongside The Ten Commandments.)
But one could argue that the real reason that the Supremes do not want any of these standards of conduct posted inside courtrooms is because in a room full of lawyers, judges, prostitutes, robbers and murderers, the presence of The Ten Commandants would create a hostile work environment.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2005. William Hamilton.