AMERICANS: FROM CITIZENS TO SERFS?
By Phyllis Spivey
"Rights groups showed a smuggled video . . . hundreds of thousands of poor Zimbabweans living in the open in the winter cold after the government tore down their homes in what it describes as an urban renewal project."
The Press-Enterprise, June 24, 2005
The above-referenced article, headed "Zimbabwe Flattens Homes of Poor" was relegated to the bottom of Page 13 in the local newspaper and probably received little notice. Yet it was eerily related to a same-day, front page, top-of- the-fold story headlining the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision: "Justices Dilute Land Rights:The Court Says Private Property Can Be Seized and Converted to More Profitable Private Use."
The Supreme Court case involved homeowners in an aging community in New London, Connecticut. Pfizer Inc., the giant pharmeceutical company, wanted to replace their properties with a commercial center, and the city, hungry for "urban renewal" tax benefits, obligingly condemned the residents’ properties. The homeowners sued in state court, arguing that taking their property against their will would be unconstitutional. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled against them.
In upholding that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively replaced the "public use" clause of the Fifth Amendment with "public purpose," meaning that property once condemned only for such uses as public roads, bridges, or utilities can now be transferred by government to private interests for a future "public benefit."
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Sandra Day O’Connor opposed the 5-4 ruling, Justices Thomas and O’Connor both filing dissenting opinions.
"Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded," wrote Justice O’Connor, whose vigorous opposition surprised court watchers. "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property, " she stated. "Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."
Both Justices O’Connor and Thomas observed that the burden would be greatest for the less powerful and wealthy. "The government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more," Justice O’Connor said. "The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result."
Indeed not. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were added by the Founding Fathers to protect citizens from their government, no less than three of the amendments guaranteeing rights involving property. The Third and Fourth Amendments prohibit government from quartering soldiers on private property without consent and from searching property without a warrant.
The Fifth Amendment – Criminal Proceedings and Condemnation of Property – states that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Holding a Biblical view of human nature, private property, and natural rights, the Founders knew that God himself established the principal of property ownership. They understood that freedom and private property ownership are inseparable, that property rights are human rights and that liberty cannot exist unless men are free to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Historically, the rights attached to real property have included the ability to sell, lease, option, build upon, borrow against, will, and occupy. Possessing these rights give property its value. Devoid of these rights, the asset becomes a liability. Ownership is reduced to occupancy and owners to tenants. Tenants are subject to eviction, as the evicted homeless of Zimbabwe have learned.
True, the U.S. Constitution mandates that property owners receive "just compensation," but in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling, who will decide what is "just?" The politicians who owe their positions to the campaign contributions of developers, corporations, elitists, and special interests? Or the courts, which have for years favored rats, insects, and owls over people and property ownership rights?
Tyrannical government "takings," especially those enabled by asset forfeiture laws and environmental edicts, have already reached epidemic proportions. But now, the Supreme Court majority, led by 85-year- old Justice John Paul Stevens, has at once put all property owners everywhere at risk.
A spokesman for the pro-Constitution Pacific Legal Foundation put it this way: "It (the decision) holds that every private house in the country is for sale, whether you know it or not."
Voices from the past put the crisis in focus.
"The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not." Friederich August von Hayek, 1900-1992, economist, philosopher, and author - The Road to Serfdom;
"Thou shalt not steal." Exodus 20:15
"It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder. "Frederick Bastiat (1801-1850, French economist, statesman, and author - The Law
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house . . . nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. Exodus 20:17
"In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property." Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) - The Communist Manifesto