Friday, June 20, 2008

Protecting Property Rights

From the 23 June 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

When our founding fathers penned the Declaration of Independence they noted we are endowed with unalienable rights which include “…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness was used as an all-inclusive term, but it had its basis in the property rights of the individual. This focus was borrowed from the writings of British philosopher John Locke who emphasized life, health, liberty, and property rights in writings that appeared over a century before the Declaration. Recognizing Locke’s influence on our nation’s principles is the key to understanding just exactly what the founding fathers meant with the language of the Declaration and the Constitution.

Taking this into consideration, all our citizens must realize that individual property rights are paramount to the American Dream and the concept of ownership by the common man is one of the most significant factors that separates our country from all others. We are a unique society, without a doubt the greatest in history, because of the ability for – and desire of – the individual to acquire things that can improve his quality of life and that of his descendents.

Many Americans don’t understand this, placing a greater emphasis on entitlements, which are the awarding of property (financial assets, aid, housing). They believe the government should provide for them and they willingly take from it. The government, too, has a sense of entitlement, believing it can provide for the masses by taking away from the individual. This government “right” was granted in the Fifth Amendment but with limitations. It reads as: ”nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

Despite the limiting agent, that property can be taken only for public use, many government entities have abused the Amendment and have stolen property for purely private use. One such example occurred in Niagara Falls, where New York stole land from homeowners and businesses which it gave to a foreign nation - the Senecas - which then used it to develop their casino.

Unfortunately, acting in a manner that sees the Constitution as a “living document” fit for modernized interpretation, the Supreme Court finds merit in such practices. In 2005 the Court settled the case of Kelo vs. City of New London, in which it ruled 5-4 in favor of New London, indicating that eminent domain for private purposes is a legal practice because economic development could be construed as being beneficial to the public at large.

The Court’s ruling has set an ugly precedent. Now, no one’s property is safe: Using the Supreme Court as a crutch, any business acting through a municipality could steal the land from underneath you as long as they employed people and - to the benefit of the government - paid higher taxes than your home, farm, or camp might. This is not what our forefathers had intended. As a matter of fact, this sort of robbery is what they were up against when they fought for our independence.

There is one way to inhibit eminent domain. It’s called the Private Property Rights Protection and Government Accountability Act. Introduced on June 10 by Congressman John Sullivan of Oklahoma, this bill has two interesting facets. First of all, it would empower property owners to take any and all eminent domain issues to court in an effort to prevent the land grab. In most of the recent cases the courts have acted primarily on issues of compensating the property owner. This bill would address the act of eminent domain itself, suspending the theft until the issue is settled and, hopefully, ruling in favor of the individual depending on state law. Not all states are as liberal as New York; some, such as Michigan and Ohio, have barred eminent domain outright.

The second power of the bill is a rather intriguing one that would turn government’s sense of entitlement upon itself. For as much as local and state governments tax every one of us, they still remain reliant on – and feel entitled to - funds from the federal government for “economic development” purposes. Sullivan’s bill would restrict such federal funds for a period of ten years to any state or locality which uses eminent domain. This is the ultimate in accountability, you could almost consider the foregone monies a massive fine levied against the government entity which has chosen to steal property. They’ll all learn quickly.

Sullivan’s bill is currently in committee. Let’s not let it die there. Contact your Congressmen, ask them to support it and let them know you value your property and you don’t want it stolen from you by abuses of power.

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