Eminent Domain Public use or Public Tyranny

The second anniversary of one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history is upon us. In Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut, the high court ruled that it’s permissible to seize private property in cases where the land in question is blighted, and that the extra tax dollars that would come from redevelopment satisfies the 5th Amendment’s requirement of taking land only for “public use.”

This was a travesty of justice that hardly requires a Juris Doctorate to see just how bad it really was. Anyone with an IQ slightly higher than their shoe size could see that this ruling was totally contradictory to the 5th Amendment, and indeed contradictory to the American dream.

Local zoning boards, who had been using Eminent Domain for decades to screw property owners, viewed the decision as just another despotic instrument to stick it to citizens who had the misfortune of owning land in a potentially high value area where a small group of so-called public servants had sole authority to deem as “blighted.” Blighted is a relative term, and depends on who has their hand out.

Developers are well known as scum, right on par with the lawyers and judges who decided the case; and let us not forget about the politicians who line their pockets with big-time dollars from high-powered developers. These people care about one thing: greenbacks. They couldn’t care less about hard-working people who bust their asses to save enough to achieve the American dream of owning property.

A good example of this miscarriage of justice is in tiny little Lodi, NJ. For a few years now the local government has been entangled in a legal struggle with the owner of a local trailer park and the occupants of the trailers who’s homes have been so cruelly coined by the major as an “eyesore.” I live a few blocks away from the trailers and there is nothing blighted about them. Most of them are very well kept and they have what is so lacking in New Jersey, an affordable community in which to live.

The mayor and the city council waged a grotesque war against a bunch of poor people, no doubt assuming that these people would lack the resources to fight back. Well fight back the people did. The trailer owners banded together and in an admirable scene of solidarity formed a committee called “Save Our Homes.” They retained legal counsel and with the help of public advocates won their court battle. The city could have saved the taxpayers some money and backed off, but they decided to pursue the case in appellate court, probably in a desperate attempt to erase the black eye they received from people who they perceived as weak, or to put it more boldly, trashy. As a resident of Lodi I can tell you that the only trash here are those who begrime City Hall.

The trailer park owner refused to sell. He would have made money so obviously he wanted to keep the business for his family to profit from in the future. The ones who would have truly been punished for the greed of the developers and the politicians would be the occupants of the park, but this group of brave citizens would not go softly into the night without a fierce battle. This is commendable. This is democracy in a nutshell. Band together and government tyranny is simply a concept to be joked about at parties. No one can destroy the concept of solidarity against oppression when citizens come together in due process. It becomes a reality.

Very recently the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that the then very tenuous requirement of being labeled “blighted” must adhere to a higher standard than the narrow vision of a local government. They must now prove blight with specifics, not just the nebulous proclamation of a local board. The state high court’s ruling was not only in keeping with the spirit of justice, it was compassionate in an area far lacking compassion and justice, local politics.

New Jersey was not fist state to buck the United States Supreme Court’s decision. Hopefully it will not be the last to adhere to one of the most basic tenets of America’s democracy. It’s ironic that even though only the 5th amendment was under siege in the Kelo ruling, the 4th played into the scenario as well.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” The founding father’s knew the true value of property rights, and those values do not end with monetary value.