Mr. Woodring at Constant Conservative reminds us of the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London decision. I agree with my conservative blog colleague that Kelo was an abominable decision, foisted upon us by my fellow liberals on the court who got property rights and eminent domain dead wrong. I am proud that South Dakota was the first state to pass legislation in response to Kelo to outlaw exactly the sort of private-private eminent domain transfer that Kelo upheld. (HB 1080 passed the 2006 Legislature with near unanimity.)
But I suggest that repudiating Kelo v. New London is not strictly Ron Paul libertarianism (a philosophy for which I still harbor sympathies). The City of New London forced homeowners to sell to Pfizer on the promise that Pfizer would build an extravagant research park that would raise property values and swell the city coffers. (Pfizer's promise fell through, and the land transfer was for naught.) In Kelo, the court narrowly held the taxable dollar value of land to supersede other values, like the sense of place, of home, of neighborhood. The court said that if you don't want to act like a capitalist and generate as much wealth as possible with your property, the government should take your property and hand it to a more avid exploiter.
As a homeowner who was able to build a fine lake house for a humble $100,000, amidst more extravagant lakeside temples to consumption worth triple and triple again as much, I found Kelo terrifying. I could easily see the Lake County Commission looking at my cheapskatery and saying, "Heidelberger's house is only generating $1700 in property tax. We know a Sioux Falls developer who can subdivide Heidelberger's land, build two McMansions, and generate ten times the property tax. Evict Heidelberger: we've got roads to fix."
Forcing a property owner to sell that property to another private party who can make more money on that property is akin to forcing construction workers and custodians to move out of town because we want our community to be populated by doctors and lawyers and other wealthy folks who can buy more stuff and generate more sales tax (Vail is like that). Rights should not depend on your economic output. Kelo and the slim liberal majority got that point dead wrong.
Mr. Woodring is right to lament the Kelo decision. I lament it with him. But remember: a rejection of Kelo is a rejection of the capitalist imperative. Some things, like having your home on your terms, are more important than money.
Update 2010.06.25 09:20 CDT: Mr. Woodring continues the discussion! Worth reading!
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