RINO sightings (not to mention eminent domain)

The very first ever edition of RINO sitings, a forum where secular and moderate conservatives who are being driven away from the Republican Party by the loonier elements of the right wing (creationists, religious fundamentalists, etc.), has been posted at SayUncle. As they say, it's Republican, without all the crazy (well, mostly, anyway; a few of these guys are still quite a bit farther to the right than me). In any case, I joined the RINOs because it is at least attempting to provide a forum for secular moderate conservatives like myself.

One post I do agree with 100% is this attack on the recent Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain. As Barry puts it:
As a practical matter, this means that you've got good title to your property, and the right of ownership, as long as there isn't a politically connected developer in your hometown who'd like to build a Wal-Mart where your family home sits now.
Sadly, unless you live in a state that has stronger protections against eminent domain seizures than the U.S. Constitution (which, given this ruling, is now essentially no protection at all), Barry is not exaggerating.

Besides my belief that property rights are fundamental rights in a democracy, meaning that the government should not be able , this issue also resonates with me because of what happened 24 years ago in my hometown of Detroit. In 1981, General Motors and the cities of Detroit and Hamtramck collaborated to displace 4,200 people from their homes in a neighborhood known as Poletown in order to build a new auto plant. In essence, Detroit and Hamtramck used eminent domain to seize private property to give to another private entity, setting a standard that served as the basis for other governments to justify making similar property transfers to private entities for stadiums and the like. Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the Poletown seizures unlawful and placed limits on the rights of state and local governments to use eminent domain to seize land, a significant victory against abuse of eminent domain.

Too bad the U.S. Supreme Court couldn't have seen its way to do the same. At least in the Poletown case, the actions of Detroit and Hamtramck, although an example of the abuse of eminent domain, are somewhat understandable. It was the middle of the deep recession of the 1980's, and unemployment rates were in the double digits. Anything that could create badly needed manufacturing jobs was highly tempting, even if the cost was the destruction of an old ethnic neighborhood. The Connecticut case that the Supreme Court ruled on was a land grab to transfer property to wealthy developers for "economic development" and increased tax receipts.

It would appear that the title to your house now means very little if the government decides it would generate more tax revenue as an office park or a hotel.


  1. Eminent domain shoud be limited to clearly defined government needs to improve the public good. Not for private corporations to make a buck. And that's coming from a card carrying member of the Democratic Party.

    On a related note, I recently discovered that Michigan law also allows a municpality to annex contiguous municipalities provided that the person owning the land being annexed agrees as well as the citiznes of the annexing community.

    What this means is that Ypsilanti can annex a section of Superior Township wholly owned by a development corporation without anyone in Superior Township having a say.

    I don't know whether you think that this is a good or bad idea that the citizens of the community being annexed have no say in the matter, but it can seriously hurt the municipality losing the land. The loss of the tax base will reduce the services which can be offered, etc.

    The balance between private ownership rights and the development of public goods is a very tricky one and you won't be able to please all the people.

    Now, back to testing Chrysler Minivans.



  2. We ran into this earlier in the year in my backwoods little town. A trailer park got plowed under to make way for a new strip mall (they call it a shopping district). The problem with compensation was that many of the homes were worth virtually nothing and the owners were forced out with no funds for new dwellings. The park was an eyesore, but I side with the people in this case. Even a lousy dwelling is still your home. Look for even more property owners to be trampled for the sake of Wally World and other big business.

  3. i've long thought that SCOTUS decisions are suspiciously politicized; looking at historical "landmark" ones, it seems to me they seldom go very much against prevailing social attitudes. when they do, about as often as not it seems to be because the justices were personally convinced of some point or other - cf. the argument in Brown v. Board about the quality of segregated law schools.

    but this one has me quite stumped. i can't think of any group of people anywhere on the political spectrum who would have argued for this on the basis of political conviction. right-wingers decry it as an assault on property rights, left-wingers as big business screwing the little guy, and one senator has already proposed legislation (S.1313) to nullify it. and to add injury to insult, now i hear that some of justice Souter's property might get taken for a hotel development! i really have no idea where they pulled this one out of, frankly.


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