1/27/2005

A test for property rights — Orlando (FL) Sentinel, 1/27/05

My Word

By Carol Saviak

Throughout his campaign and in his second inaugural address, President George W. Bush struck a chord with millions of Americans when he outlined his plans to create an "ownership society." This message resonated with average voters who understand the motivating desire to own their own homes and businesses.

Property ownership provides the means for ordinary persons to secure economic independence and security. For most, the home is their single largest investment and greatest financial asset. Many small businesses are financed by entrepreneurs borrowing money against the value of their homes.

Economists who have studied why free markets succeed, when the economies of less developed nations fail, have determined property rights and the rule of law are essential to developing the prosperity associated with free economies. A nation's commitment to the protection of property rights is a key factor in assessing a nation's future economic potential.

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear one of the most important property-rights cases in its history. The case, Kelo v. New London, was filed by Susette Kelo and her neighbors when their homes were condemned by the city of New London, Conn., through eminent domain. The basis for condemnation was purely "economic development" purposes: to make way for a private company to build a new plant and associated amenities adjacent to the plant.

Twenty-five organizations, including renowned urban-policy scholar Jane Jacobs, the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the AARP, the American Farm Bureau, legal scholar Richard Epstein and others have filed amicus curiae (or friend of the court) briefs supporting the Kelo appeal. These groups recognize the alarming abuse of power occurring across the country. In its report, Public Power, Private Gain, the Institute for Justice which is litigating the Kelo appeal, has documented more than 10,000 properties similarly targeted by government countrywide.

The Fifth Amendment to our Constitution established government's power to take private property for public use. Historically, this meant building new roads, schools, bridges, and other public facilities. Local governments are now stretching the terms "public purpose" and "urban renewal" to hide their transfer of an individual's private property to private for-profit corporations.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported the U.S. Department of Justice was considering filing an amicus brief in support of New London's power to take Kelo's home. Such an action would have openly contradicted Bush's statements regarding the importance of private-property ownership.

This week the deadline for filing amicus briefs passed without intervention by the Bush administration. This case now goes to the Supreme Court, which will establish whether or not government has unlimited power to seize your property and transfer it to another private entity if the government can simply project greater tax revenue than you now pay.

The president shrewdly avoided a misstep this week in deciding not to undermine the constitutional rights that protect all American property owners and bolster our nation's economy.


Orlando Sentinel: www.orlandosentinel.com

Carol Saviak is the executive director of the Coalition for Property Rights in Orlando FL:
www.proprights.com