Jacob Sullum

 Mindful of the appearance that big corporations such as Pfizer and the New York Times Co. use eminent domain for their own ends, the Times cautioned that "eminent domain must not be used for purely private gain." But as O'Connor noted, "nearly any lawful use of real private property can be said to generate some incidental benefit to the public." If the Fifth Amendment requires only that a taking provide some such benefit, she wrote, "the words 'for public use' do not realistically exclude any takings."

 The Times, even while mentioning its own abuse of eminent domain, conceded that O'Connor raised "a serious concern." But it called her fears "exaggerated," since "the majority strongly suggested that eminent domain should be part of a comprehensive plan."

 So, contrary to the alarming reports you may have seen, the government cannot simply force you to sell your home or business, at a price of its choosing, for the convenience of a developer, a big-box retailer or some other politically influential land grabber. It has to have a plan first. Maybe.

 The nonchalance of the Times regarding eminent domain abuse is of a piece with its derogation of property rights, which it sees as inferior to so-called human rights. (Try to imagine the Times running a celebratory editorial on "The Limits of Human Rights.") Yet property rights are human rights: Your ownership of your house stems from your ownership of your body and the fruits of your labor.

 In this light, all rights are property rights, without which it would be impossible to exercise, say, freedom of religion or freedom of the press. How free would The New York Times be if people could occupy its offices at will?

 Then again, since the owners of the Times have implicitly identified the paper's new digs as a "public use," perhaps they wouldn't mind.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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