How often do we have to say it?

“I told you so.”

A July 2004 decision by Michigan’s supreme court was quite correct in its assessment of taking of public land for private use.  It is a wrong use of government power and eminent domain.  In the case of County of Wayne v. Hathcock, the Michigan Supreme Court handed down a decision that was an important victory for private property rights.  The majority decision was to counter the suggested outcome based on the “Poletown neighborhood council v. city of Detroit” decision.

If you weren’t aware of THAT verdict… Google it… or continue reading.

Private property, that simple concept of what you own, is yours, was summarily dismissed in Poletown. Detroit planned to condemn a residential neighborhood, clear the land, and convey it to General Motors as a site for construction of an assembly plant.  Residents of Poletown complained, saying that this was a private taking.

They were right. But they still lost.

The people of Michigan, even though a bit relieved after the 2004 Wayne county decision, were alarmed enough by the “Kelo v. City of New London” verdict in 2005 that drove a stake through the heart of the constitutional premise of private property.  Enough so, as to craft Michigan proposal 4, the Michigan Eminent Domain Restriction Amendment. It passed resoundingly with an 80% majority.

The effects of Proposal 4 were to:

  • Prohibit government from taking private property for transfer to another private individual or business for purposes of economic development or increasing tax revenue.
  • Provide that if an individual’s principal residence is taken for public use, the individual must be compensated for at least 125% of property’s fair market value.
  • Require government that takes a private property to demonstrate that the taking is for a public use; if taken to eliminate blight, require a higher standard of proof to demonstrate that the taking of that property is for a public use.
  • Preserve existing rights of property owners.

Kelo V New London became the rallying cry for other such measures to be passed throughout the country, and refueled the languishing pushback of an ever assuming government power to “take.”  It blurred the line between taking for “public use,” and “public good.”

When attempting to define such things, consider “Public USE” as roads, government building projects, infrastructure.  “public GOOD” being that which might well be the whim of a currently elected politician, or community activist and organizer.  A new mall perhaps, or even a factory might be considered “good” for a community, but its use is for private profit, and serves the “public good” only so long as the profit motivation of the receiver is being met.   Alternately, “Public USE” is non-conditional, and therfore serves all people of the community equally.

The fickle nature of what is “public good” is now on display as a slap in the face of Susette Kelo, and deserves much more attention than what the press will give it.  Yesterday, it was reported that Pfizer, the entity which sought the siezure and deliverance of Susette Kelo’s home to their asset pool has decided to not build anything on the taken property that now remains a vacant field.  Cato opines:

That this purported “public use” is now exposed as the façade for corporate welfare that it always was is, of course, little comfort to Suzette Kelo and the other homeowners whose land was seized. But hopefully this will be an object lesson for other companies considering eminent domain abuse as a route to acquire land on the cheap — and especially for state and local officials who acquiesce in this type of behavior.

Object lessons abound. But the companies which seek to expand through the use of destructive government force will not have appetites quelled unless we re-assert ourselves as owners of the government, rather than the other way around.  This time the lesson is the direct taking of property that has less than the desired (though not surprising) result.  Our liberties with regard to our own welfare  are next, as legislation worms its way through a complex maze of deceit and constitutional misunderstanding

The “I Told You So” warnings are again laying before us.

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