Thomas Sowell

In either case, you are out at least a couple of hundred grand. Has the government "taken" that much from you, without paying you the full compensation for your property, as required by the Constitution of the United States?

Such theoretical questions were made vividly real, and people were vividly outraged, when the Supreme Court in 2005 declared that governments at all levels had the power to seize private property, not only for such government activities as building reservoirs or highways, but also for turning the property over to private developers to build shopping malls, casinos, or whatever.

The Constitution says that government can take private property for "public use" if it compensates the owner. The Supreme Court changed that to mean that the government could take private property just to turn over to others, so long as they called it a "public purpose" like "redevelopment."

Politicians are experts at rhetoric, especially if that is all that is needed to justify seizing your home and turning it over to someone else who will build something that pays more taxes.

All hell broke out, once people now understood that the issue called "takings" was about politicians being able to seize their property, virtually at will, for someone else's benefit. But it was a liberal court decision, not the words of conservatives, which created that understanding.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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