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Independence Day Betrayed

July 4, 2005


   Susette Kelo       Just days before our nation was to celebrate its independence from the tyranny of England in 1776, the US Supreme Court betrayed us by placing us under the tyranny of another government - our own. On July 4, 1776, we declared that King George III could no longer take our money. On June 23, 2005, the US Supreme Court, by a one-vote majority, gave government the authority to take our private property.

I am of course referring to the drastic expansion of the power of Eminent Domain passed by the Supremes in Kelo v. New London. In this case the city of New London, Connecticut wanted to force residents to sell their homes to a private development corporation. The city had delegated its power of Eminent Domain to this private corporation. The corporation wanted to build a resort hotel, conference center and 100 private residences. They wanted to take citizen's homes so they could build other homes!

The lead plaintiff, Susette Kelo, and 14 other plaintiffs who love their homes and their neighborhood, sued the city to stop this unlawful seizure. Susette had dreamed of owning a home that looked out over the water. She bought and lovingly restored her little pink house in 1997, and has enjoyed the great view from its windows ever since. The Dery family, fellow plaintiffs who live down the street from Susette, has lived there since 1895. And now the Supreme Court, their last chance, has told them the city can use Eminent Domain to take their homes.

Eminent Domain, the power of government to force citizens to sell private property to the government, has long been with us. But historically, eminent domain has applied to civic projects like dams and roads. It was intended to keep one individual from holding out for large sums of money when the government was buying land for necessary public projects. This ruling explicitly gives cities the right to knock down homes for the benefit of private developers.

This nation was founded by people who were sick of the English system of law which derived in large part from the feudal tradition of that nation. In that tradition the royalty could do pretty much as they pleased, including taking your daughter or your land. Unfortunately, our Founders adopted much of that system of law, known today as English Common Law. Although our Constitution does not mention Eminent Domain, the last phrase of the Fifth Amendment does allude to it: "...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

The nation will miss the wise counsel of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced her retirement this week. She voted against the majority in this case. In her dissenting opinion she said that, "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party...The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations..."

We should note that this issue was hardly a slam-dunk, with a large majority bowing to numerous weight precedents. No, it was a five to four vote, with O'Connor penning a masterful, well-reasoned and logical dissent. It would have gone the other way if there were only one more Justice on the Court who respected the Constitution.

For the first 175 years of our republic, it was clearly recognized that government should not seize a citizen's property and give it to other people for their private use. The Supreme Court ruled in 1937 (see LINK below) that "one person's property may not be taken for the benefit of another private person without a justifying public purpose, even though compensation be paid." Since that time, activist courts have gradually eroded our property rights until the Supreme Court felt safe in engaging in the ultimate betrayal of the American citizens in this case.

It is wrong for government, whether federal, state or local, to seize private property unless it is clear that it is necessary to do so for the public good. If the only logical place for a much-needed community hospital included my property, they wouldn't need to use Eminent Domain. I would sell, making sure I received a reasonable price. But the argument of the governments which are abusing Eminent Domain is not that the land is need for public projects. Their argument is that it is in the public's interest to take private property because government will receive more taxes!

Under this logic, a quiet neighborhood with well-kept homes can be condemned if a developer convinces government that he can generate more tax revenue. He doesn't even have to prove that the project will do so. If the government thinks it will, they can condemn your property.

But what if the politicians are crooks? What if the developer pays off politicians to vote for a project that will make all of them millions at your expense? This was clearly Justice O'Connor's concern, although she stated it more politely (referring to it as "disproportionate influence and power in the political process"). I am not a judge, so I can call it what it is: Crooks paying off elected crooks.

Where does it end? Churches and synagogues will be next. For example, think of all the money the city of West Palm Beach would make in taxes if it condemned First Baptist Church. The church is right on the Intracoastal Waterway. What a great place for condos! Think of the millions of dollars in taxes the city will get over the years! And the Supreme Court says it's OK!!

One citizen has devised a novel response to the Supremes' shameful decision. On June 27, just four days after the Court acted on Kelo v. New London, Logan Darrow Clements started the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road, Weare, New Hampshire. This is the present location of the home of Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who voted with the majority to take our property rights away. The hotel will be named The Lost Liberty Hotel.

Clements points out that the town will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land. He said in a press release (see LINK below) that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans. "This is not a prank" said Clements. "The Towne of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development."

What can you do to help? You may not be able to take a Supreme Court Justice's home, but think about this. Regardless of what the Supreme Court says, local and state officials need votes. Just because the Supremes say something can be done, politicians don't have to do that thing. Call, write and email every politician, federal, state and local, who answers to you. Tell them that if they even think of trampling on your property rights, you will do everything in your power to defeat them in their next election.

Finally, if Independence Day is to mean anything in the future, the judges must be reined in. Justice O'Connor has retired. Chief Justice Rehnquist will likely follow soon. The liberals have amassed tens of millions of dollars to be used to immediately attack any judge our President nominates. Patriots need to be prepared to fight a hard battle to place justices on the Supreme Court, as well as all courts in the land, who will interpret the Constitution rather than creating law. Unless activist judges are stopped, all of our freedoms, including the freedom to enjoy our property in peace, will be taken from us.


Institute of Justice article on Kelo v. New London:


1937 Supreme Court Decision Limiting Government's Ability to Take Private Property:


Lost Liberty Hotel:


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Copyright ©2005 Tom Barrett

Dr. Tom Barrett is a pastor, teacher, author, conference keynote speaker, professor, certified executive coach, and marketplace minister. His teaching and coaching have blessed both church and business leaders. He has been ordained for over 40 years, and has pastored in seven churches over that time. Today he “pastors pastors” as he oversees ordained and licensed ministers in Florida for his ministerial fellowship.

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