Kelo and Motivations

By now, I expect that most people know about the Recent Supreme Court Ruling in the case of Kelo et al v. City of New London. This case tested the limits of the Eminent Domain and the Fifth Amendment.

I wrote a big long post about this ruling. I found way to excuse the Supreme Court for the decision. I found ways that it was okay. After thinking about it for a few days I am not sure what I think. I will not know until it has been in place for a little while.

What I know is that I am not surprised by the ruling. I can see the political thought behind it. If I strictly look at the letter of the Fifth Amendment I can see why the Justices were able to rule this way. Most people are worried about how the outcome will be used. That is why they say the court got it wrong.

Here is the text of the Fifth Amendment.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The problem is that state and local governments are addicted to tax revenue. We want our government to do so much for us. We do not want to pay for what they do for us. Every day this year I have heard someone complain about not getting money in the California budget. If the only thing we can do about the issues that face us is have government throw money at those problems, they will try to generate those taxes no matter what the effect.

Many people I talk to about this issue have no problem with land being taken for roads or schools. They are afraid that letting land being taken for private development will lead to abuse. The problem is that abuse happens even with public land taking. Both the Cross-Bronx expressway and the Century Freeway are examples of these abuses.

The Supreme Court got put the responsibility at the level of state government. This means we have work to do if we do not like this decision. If we are worried about the kind of people who are in local politics we need to work on the state level. In California we can even go to the ballot if we have to.

For too long, many Americans have been looking toward the Supreme Court to protect them. I have been seeing this as a lazy way to see our democracy. We need to take our case to the legislators. Politicians spend millions of dollars to get our votes. We need to be better at extending our power as citizens.

I found two blog entries that I want to share on this topic. I think both of them make great points. Even if you do not like this ruling, it is not enough to throw up your hands and say that you lost your rights. Now is the time to make your voice heard. We have to be willing to work hard to get the country we want. It is not enough for us just to go to the ballot and hope that is enough.

Matthew Yglesias

It probably is the moment to start paying closer attention to City Council elections which many people, myself included, tend not to scrutinize much. Those people have real power and it's worth paying attention.

Scott Lemieux

The lesson here, again, is that the Constitution does not provide a remedy for every bad public policy. Combining upper-class tax cuts with increased pork-barrel spending, like the current administration is doing, is awful public policy, but it's constitutional, and the same goes for Robert Moses' grandiose road-building schemes.


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