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Jul 1, 2005 11:56 am

The New Corporate Welfare

According to the decision in Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut, local governments can seize your property, against your will, and turn it over to corporate developers. Officials need only to compensate owners and claim that the seizure serves some public purpose such as boosting tax revenues or

This shredding of our property rights is not as right-wing leaders would have us believe an issue of liberal versus conservative. Indeed, it is conservatives who have long insisted on judicial restraint, saying Justices should not broadly read rights into the Constitution and should defer to local governments. It is also conservatives who have been the reliable allies of corporations on issues ranging from bankruptcy to access to the courts.

Regardless of our politics, giving up our property to corporations should be as intolerable as surrendering our suffrage or free speech rights.

Rights, of course, are not absolute. With due compensation, governments can take private property into the public domain for such common purposes as building roads and reservoirs that all of us use.
But we should draw a bright line against the transfer of our property to private corporate interests, whether or not government says that a development project better serves the public interest than our homes, stores, or farms.

The same powerful corporate interests that covet your private property have the money and clout to make local officials dance to their tune. With the definition of public purpose, under the Supreme Court decision, at the discretion of government, “The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned in a dissenting opinion. Your government could raze your home for a shopping mall, a Wal-Mart box store, or any corporate development that promises jobs, tax revenue, tourism, etc.

As several liberal, African-American members of Congress have noted, the taking of property for corporate development is likely to impact the poor and minorities whose property has less tax value than development projects. So liberals need to get behind efforts to protect our basic American property rights.

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Keith Halderman - 7/13/2005

A book that has had great deal of influence on my thinking is The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages by Tom Bethell. Therefore, I view the Kelo decision as potentially the most harmful ruling in the Court's history.