Sunday, June 26, 2005

Supreme Court Upholds Theft

Apologies for the dearth of writing. I was home last week visiting family. Back to it...

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court anointed The Man with the power to steal property at will. "But doesn't the state have to compensate landowners whom they displace?" you ask. Yes, but let us imagine for a moment that you are walking down the street, minding your own business, when suddenly you are approached by the local magistrate who demands the necklace that grandma Jean gave you as an heirloom. Further assume that our mythical agent of The Man has the authority to determine exactly how much he will pay for it. Going one step further, let's pretend that this doughnut-eating envoy of The Man decides to hand over said necklace to his girlfriend, because she will put it to much better use than you will.

Would you call the above scenario theft? That is exactly what the Supreme Court has endorsed in Kelo v. New London. The city of New London, Connecticut sought to swipe the homes of fifteen landowners and hand the property over to Pfizer, which had agreed to build a research facility there if the city would build upscale yuppie housing developments and a marina.

Writing for the majority, the senile John Paul Stevens wrote, "The city has carefully formulated an economic development [plan] that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including -- but not limited to -- new jobs and increased tax revenue." So "public use" now includes not only such traditional projects as building bridges and highways but also creating jobs in a depressed city can evidently satisfy the takings clause, at least in the perverse bizarro world inhabited by the likes of Stevens, Kennedy, Breyer, Souter, and Ginsburg. The Court has done more here than all the assorted flotsam and jetsam roaming the streets to endanger hard-earned American liberties. After all, it is easier to protect oneself against pickpockets than the wiles of The Man.

Eminent domain represents the claim of sovereignty by the state over all property within its jurisdiction. It is a claim to authority that the state does not possess. Deuteronomy 10:14 says, "To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it" (see also Ps. 24:1 and I Cor. 10:26, etc.). In short, all things belong to God, and He has given the family institutional authority over the disposition of property.

The eminent domain of the state was not recognized in ancient Israel (see the incident of Naboth's vineyard in I Kings 20) and was prophesied as one of the consequences of apostasy. In describing the nature of statism that ought to look very familiar, Samuel says that the king "will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants" (I Sam. 8:14). Eminent domain is also explicitly forbidden in Ezekiel 46:18, "The prince must not take any of the inheritance of the people, driving them off their property. He is to give his sons their inheritance out of his own property, so that none of my people will be separated from his property.'"

Tom Fleming writes that the court has attacked the "hard-won civil rights that are part of the Anglo-American tradition," which Locke summed up as the rights to life, liberty, and property. While true, I think it should also be noted that eminent domain is in part a product of a natural law tradition which locates ultimate law within nature rather than revelation, with the result that ultimate sovereignty is ascribed to a temporal authority, in this case the state.


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