Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Supreme Court on Property Rights, Chicago Style

If this doesn't shake that "whaddya gonna do" attitude, nothing will. The Supreme Court has again rewritten law, in it's decision that redefines eminent domain, and gives local government the right to seize your property for private economic development for "the public good". That would be the Chicago-style definition of "public good". John Kass (as always) says it better than I can. From his June 26 column, High court ruling steamrolls rights of the little guy:

Now that liberals on the Supreme Court have gutted the old-fashioned notion of private property for little guys, they might as well finish the job and change the name of the country. How about:

The United States of Chicago.

It sounds about right. The Chicago Way--in which business and real estate become dependent on politics and favors--may spread across states red and blue.

"Why not?" said Dan Zordani, 64, who thought for decades he has owned a bike shop on the Northwest Side of Chicago, until a developer with City Hall clout decided he wanted to build condos on Zordani's property.

"The United States of Chicago makes sense," he said. "Now every mayor can take your property, give it to their developer friends so they get rich. And you can't say a thing. The Supreme Court has spoken."
City hall has called the area of Mr. Zordani's bike shop "a blighted area", which ought to chill the spine of every homeowner in the city, in particular those of Jefferson Park, which is a typical middle class neighborhood. (I guess for the sake of confiscation of property, the middle class is "blighted", but when it comes to taxation, we're "rich".)

John Kass (same column):
They [the men who founded our nation] believed in freedom and the quaint concept of the rights of the individual. This includes the right to own property--like your home or business--and not have it yanked away by a king or mayor to cement his personal relationships with some condo developer.

What the court did, in a 5-4 ruling, was allow the wealthy and the influential to take the homes and businesses of those less fortunate. The ruling involves a private development in New London, Conn. Some homeowners did not want to sell their homes.

The old interpretation of the 5th Amendment was that local governments could seize private property for "public use." This was understood to mean a park or road, school or library, public hospital or some such. No reasonable person would deny that such public uses are vital.

But the justices ruled that local governments may seize private property for commercial developments, including condos, hotel and marinas worth millions in profits and additional tax revenue.

Not all justices were in agreement.
"Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, any farm with a factory," wrote Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in a vigorous dissent, joined by conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

And there's nothing to prevent City Hall from quoting Zordani a price and telling him to take it or leave it.

If you're thinking the "liberal" democrats will stand up for the little guy, well, it may be time to wake up. These are not your father's democrats.
Bad novels and TV shows and movies dramatize that it is the liberals who stand up for the powerless and against big business. But conservatives stood up for the little guy, and the reason is that conservatives prize the rights of the individual over the rights of the collective, over the appeals to the efficiencies of government and business.

"What it comes to is that the mayor can plow me under in the middle of the night the way he plowed Meigs Field under," Zordani said. "Remember Meigs?"

Yeah, I think Chicago remembers Meigs. I heard an interview with Dan Zordani this morning on WLS Radio, and he says he's going to fight. If you think fighting for your property rights is better than the old Chicago shrug-and-smile "whaddya-gonna-do"; if you feel uneasy about depending on the integrity of City Hall (muffled guffaw), you may want to visit this link. The stakes are high for us all - Mr. Zordani shouldn't fight alone.

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