Thousands of businesses in several states are under similar threats of having their properties confiscated by local governments, typically for the benefit of large corporations. This deters investment and subjects millions of workers to the risk that a bureaucrat may force them out of their jobs.
In some cases, a municipality even announces a massive plan to seize properties for development long before it could become a reality. That depresses property values, scares away improvements, and lowers appraised values, thereby reducing the price the town eventually pays.
Good news arrived in July when the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously repudiated its own Poletown decision and held in favor of property owners.
Siding with Edward Hathcock against the County of Wayne, the court declared its prior ruling against private property to be a "radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles."
But that "radical departure" lives on in other states, and even the new Michigan decision continues to allow takings of so-called "blighted" property.
It's not too hard for a town to hang the "blighted" label on almost any property it wants to seize for a lucrative development project.
In the densely populated Northeast, outrage over threatened seizure of property has boiled over in local elections. In the Democratic township of Franklin, N.J., a powerful incumbent mayor was upset in November 2003 by a Republican challenger who opposed a planned use of eminent domain.
Elderly homeowners are just as angry as businessmen. A "big box" retailer such as Costco or Home Depot might look at a group of modest attached houses and dream of a parking lot, but residents see a lifetime of memories.
Often the projects are financed on the backs of the same taxpayers fighting to oppose them. Development bonds are guaranteed at public expense, with the ultimate benefits going to large corporations that flatten the area for a megastore to sell goods made in China.
In March, a 4-to-3 decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court authorized the town of New London to take the properties of Susette Kelo and many others for a private development by the wealthy pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer Inc.
Manufacturing Viagra surely is not the public use that the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote eminent domain into the U.S. Constitution.
President Bush has an excellent opportunity to win the support of small business in the coming election. He should announce that his administration will defend private property before the Supreme Court this fall.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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