I'm a liberal. My officemate is a conservative. Every now and then, an issue crops up on which we both agree; this is one of them.
In a nutshell, the city of New London, Connecticut, wants to condemn several private residences in a run-down area of town so that they can sell the land as a large package to developers. The city wants the tax base and the redevelopment of a run-down part of town; they've already acquired all the surrounding land and begun substantial improvements. The owners want to keep their property.
We here (in this office) both agree that society needs the concept of Eminent Domain. Sometimes the public interest and an individual's interest conflict, and given that due consideration for the individual is given, the public interest should win out. The Constitution states "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation," implying that private property may be taken for public use. If the government needs to build a road or a dam or string power lines, and your property is the best way to do that, and they pay you fairly, then it's acceptable that the government can compel you to sell.
However, condemning land and then turning around and selling it to developers... it's hardly "public use". We here (in this office) condemn the idea in the strongest terms.
My officemate thinks it is a bad idea because, as a conservative, he distrusts the Government. The Government is run by a bunch of self-serving meddlesome individuals interested only in expanding Government. Extending their power to take away private property is a terrible idea. It can only lead to an unending cycle of tax hikes and condemnations in the name of unnecessary government boondoggles such as low income housing and red fox habitats.
Me, I think it is a bad idea because, as a liberal, I distrust for-profit corporations. The stated and sole aim of business is to Make Money, and business will never do anything that would be good for society but that would conflict with Making Money. Turning the government a vehicle by which land developers can sieze land to Make Money is a terrible idea. It can only lead to an unending cycle of government corruption and condemnations in the name of lining the pockets of the developers who have bought the politicians.
So we both agree. Sort of.
And yet, the case has reached the Supreme Court, and on the way several lower courts and the Connecticut Supreme Court have sided with the city of New London, in favor of the condemnation. Somehow, private use has become public use, as long as the public (in the form of the local government) thinks that the new private use is better than the previous private use.
So, we here ask, this means that you really only own your home until the government wants someone else to have it?
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra