Everybody on the web today has been talking about the Supreme Court’s awful ruling in Kelo vs. New London. I feel a little bit like I did on 9/11, only instead of going to bed in the United States and waking up in a Tom Clancy novel I went to bed in the United States and woke up in a third world country where the rich and powerful can steal people’s homes with impunity. If a man’s home is his castle, it’s now officially a castle under siege.

I simply can’t describe how appalled and angry this decision makes me. Interestingly enough, from the discussion I’ve read, my anger seems to be shared by people all across the political spectrum for a change. Just about the only people who like this decision are large corporations and municipal governments. I think this is an illustration of the psychological power of narrative. The simple one-sentence description of this case is “the court ruled that the government can take your house and give it to a large corporation”. Conservatives hate the part about the government taking your house, and the left hates the part about giving it to a large corporation.

I just wonder how long it’s going to be before a development based on stolen houses gets destroyed by arson, or a construction worker gets shot by someone refusing to leave their home when it’s scheduled for demolition. Messing with people’s houses produces rage faster than anything except messing with people’s children.

I think I’ll make a contribution to the Institute for Justice, the public litigation firm that was defending the homeowners in this case. They do very good work, and I can’t remember a case they’ve been involved in where they weren’t on the side of the angels. (Which is more than I can say for the American Civil Liberties Union, but that’s another topic.) I’d encourage anyone else who is as angered by this travesty of justice as I am to do the same.

Update: Just had an entertaining thought. Local governments are now empowered to use eminent domain to steal property from A and give it to B as long as doing so will allegedly result in economic development. Howzabout a requirement that the type of economic improvement that is supposed to follow from the theft be precisely specified, and should it not materialize a subsequent requirement that the stolen property be returned to its rightful owners? The economic development reports that are used to justify these thefts often have zero relation to reality. Could we at least penalize these people for stealing property fraudulently? (Yes, I’m still pissed about this after a good night’s rest.)

Anne adds:

I’ve been trying to think of something to say in response to the Kelo ruling, beyond describing my emotional reaction to it (incandescent rage alternating with fear). Finally, someone on Fark (darkhorse23) has said something that I think encapsulates my thoughts:

When I read the decision, I got the sickest feeling in my stomach because in one quantum thought, I could see where it could end up. . .

Government by fear.


Interpretation of Eminent Domain law has been creeping in this direction for years. It’s a very small step from “the government can take your house but they have to compensate you for it” to “the government can take your house”.

4 Responses to “Apparently We Don't Live In The United States Anymore”
  1. Luke says:

    Many persons seem outraged at this decision due to what’s seen as a misuse of eminent domain. Does this mean that such persons are okay with eminent domain in the first place?

    (The case against eminent domain seems self-evident. Such a case roughly follows this line of reasoning:

    1| Theft is the unauthorized removal of control over a piece of property.

    2| Replacing control over one item with control over another item [generally of approximately equal value] is compensation.

    3| Compensation does not require or imply consent or authorization (the act of compensation can be performed by one party without the consent of the other. This makes it unauthorized, but it does not change that it is compensation).

    4| Eminent domain allows for the removal of personal control over a piece of property–with ‘appropriate’ compensation–by a governing body (or their proxy).

    Therefore, 5| Eminent domain is theft.

    The obvious response to this is:

    1| Individuals are citizens of this country voluntarily.

    2| Accepting citizenship requires agreement to live in accordance with the laws of the land. That is, it implies consent to all laws.

    3| One of the laws authorizes the government to take one’s property without one’s consent at the time.

    4| By having citizenship, one necessarily consents to not having to consent to the government’s desire to remove control of one’s property.

    5| Eminent domain is a law.

    Therefore, 6| Eminent domain is pre-authorized.

    Therefore, 7| By |1| of the previous argument, eminent domain is not theft.

    The response, in turn, to this is: WHY DO WE CONSENT TO THIS?

    *The compensation bits in the first argument are superfluous, logically speaking. The validity of the argument exists independent of those two premises (|2| and |3|). I included them because they respond to the seductive (though flawed) “But you’re compensated for it…surely it must not be theft, then!”)

  2. Tom says:

    Agree that the Kelso ruling is horrible.

    On Luke’s comment, though, I don’t have nearly so big a problem with eminent domain. The other part of the social contract (|3|) that was glossed over is that, previously, the government could only take your property *for a narrow range of uses*.

    A minor further argument I’d make is that when the property is being taken for government (‘public’) *use*, you’ve got some influence on the government. When it’s being taken to transfer to some other private entity that promises to fufill a public purpose, you have no influence on that other entity.

  3. Alan Furman says:

    Logan Darrow Clements (yes, THAT Logan Darrow Clements) has a plan:


  4. Arcane Heretic says:

    And with 2 vacancies in the Supreme Court you know Bush will fill those slots with people programmed with his (their) “agenda”.

    It won’t be long before people start fleeing this country to escape Religious Persecution.

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