June 18, 2024

Supreme Court Backs Municipal Land Grabs

This tite was stolen from a CNN report of the same name – read it and be amazed at the temerity of the nation’s Supreme Court. Two days later and I’m still in a state of denial/disbelief over this ruling. Now I understand where the phrase “contempt of court” comes from!

From the CNN article:

In a victory for cities, a divided Supreme Court concluded Thursday that local governments have the authority to seize private land and turn the property over to private developers for economic development.

Government’s authority to condemn land for public use traditionally has been used to eliminate slums or build highways, schools and other public works.

But Tuesday’s 5-4 ruling found that local officials can use their “eminent domain” power to condemn homes in a working-class neighborhood for private development in hopes of boosting tax revenue and improving the local economy.

As I understand it, the idea of eminent domain was introduced in the Bill of Rights with amendment 5 where, as an apparent afterthought to the definition of an accused criminal’s rights, the following phrase was ratified:

…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Undoubtedly there are volumes of legal mumbo-jumbo in regards to eminent domain that I am blissfully ignorant of. I like it that way. Keeps my mind free of extraneous trash so I can think about justice, the real principal behind government.

In this case, there are two problems I have with the concept of eminent domain and compensation. First, who decides what “just compensation” is and how? Someone has to decide and it’s going to be the government.

So, they decide they like the land your house is on for the site of a new fire station. Presumedly there is no other suitable location for the new structure. This is a standard that should be met prior to a “forced sale” taking place. Assuming this is so, what are you going to be paid for your property? Probably something near the appraised value with a little extra thrown in for sweetener. There’s a serious conflict of interest problem inherent in the transaction, but all in all it’s probably handled fairly most of the time, at least by the government’s definition.

The second issue is a new one raised by the Court’s new ruling. If instead of bulldozing the house that’s been in your family for generations the government wants to let The Donald build a casino on your former land, what’s fair compensation, the $150,000 it was worth yesterday or the $1,500,000 it’s worth today?

By opening up the coercion process to private parties such as giant retailers and the like a serious compensation gap has been created. And the fact of the matter is that eminent domain is little more than Constitutionally-sanctioned theft. In the end property is just property and every owner has a price. Paying it is just compensation. Anything else is a crime, if not legally then certainly ethically.

Read the oral arguments made to the court.

One thing that’s immediately clear from the transcript is the arrogant pomposity of the “justices”, demonstrated by the fact that the presenters are rarely even allowed to finish their own sentences.

Another thing that leaps out at one are the rambliing references to ancient precedent and a concern for maintaining continuity with past rulings. Right or wrong (read ‘justice’) is not at issue, only consistency.

That is something I have a problem with. There is no use whatever in being consistent if one is always wrong, is there? So, is it consistent with American values to sanction the wresting of one’s private property from my grasp against my will? The answer to that is obviously “No”.

Eminent domain is something that common sense tells us is to be used as a last resort, when all other avenues of benefitting the common good have been exhausted. The fact that the new Golden Nugget will generate more tax revenue than Aunt Melba’s purple victorian does NOT represent a public use or purpose behind the taking. What it represents is the fundamentally anti-American precept of the government stealing private property from its citizens in order to generate more money to spend.

This is so egregious an act of larceny as to make all other forms of governmental “entitlements” such as taxation pale by comparison. At least in those cases the state must deal with its citizens as a whole, applying the confiscatory policies more or less evenly. In the case of eminent domain takings, individuals are forced to deal with the government alone, a contest that, as we’ve seen this week, can have only one outcome.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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2 thoughts on “Supreme Court Backs Municipal Land Grabs

  1. An interesting diatribe. As I remember the old days the original settlers used to charge tolls to cross their property and it became impossible to travel anywhere. So what did government do? For the greater good they used Eminent Domain to generate right-of-ways so farmers could get produce to market and to let other settlers in. Same thing for electricity & gas ROW. What if they did not have this power? Think of the chaos. It should be used as a last resort too.

  2. This is a bit of a rambler; I guess I wasn’t fully calmed down yet when I wrote it. I do not believe that there can be a reasonable parallel drawn between creating avenues for basic services such as transportation and communications, particularly in rural areas, and the artificial condemnation of perfectly habitable neighborhoods.

    The primary reason given, increased tax income, is particularly vile because it assumes an entitlement on the part of the government to grow of its own volition and at the expense of those it is supposed to serve. The pie-in-the-sky projects whose promise has brought about this case may or may not develop as promised. Even if they do, I fail to see the need for them. Land, while often valuable in this country, is not particularly rare. Stealing it from its rightful owners to gain windfall profits is clearly not a principle on which this country was founded.

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