It's "almost as if God has spoken," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
To what did the House Democratic leader refer? The Sermon on the Mount? The Martin Luther King Jr. "I have a dream" speech? Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean's latest rant? Go to the head of the class if you guessed Pelosi's remark related to the Kelo v. City of New London property rights Supreme Court case.
In Connecticut's Kelo v. City of New London case, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, supported the city's use of eminent domain to force a private property owner to sell to a private developer. While conceding that the properties could not reasonably be called "blighted," the Court nevertheless said, " . . . [T]he city is endeavoring to coordinate a variety of commercial, residential, and recreational uses of land, with the hope that they will form a whole greater than the sum of its parts." The decision acknowledged that New London's development plan does not allow the general public to use the land, but stated that since the "plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment." Incredible.
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, a corrupt government takes productive farmland and gives it to incompetent cronies and relatives of President Robert Mugabe, leaving 4.5 million of the country's 11.6 million people facing starvation in this once-fruitful South African breadbasket. Mugabe recently implemented "Operation Murambatsvina" ("drive out trash"), seizing and demolishing homes, market stalls and gardens. Mugabe says the "clean-up exercise" aims to rid towns of "criminals" and "illegal black-marketeers inhabiting unsanitary slums." Sound familiar?
Governments historically use eminent domain to acquire private property for "public use," defined as a road, bridge or a school. Here, the city bluntly acknowledges its goal -- a higher tax base.
The community-rights-trump-individual-rights crowd cheered the decision. "We have a lot of properties in my city [Memphis]," said Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., " . . . that are crying out for development. . . . I've always been one to believe that individual rights is a big thing [but] there is some real value to this decision."
Departing Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote a blistering dissent: "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."
How often does government take private land for private purposes?