Thursday, June 23, 2005

if you are what you own then you are nothing

the supreme court is on a roll. after their recent decision that growing a pot plant in your backyard equals interstate commerce, scotus has now decided that there is no such thing as personal property.

your house is not yours. scotus declared today in a 5-4 decision that local government can seize any property it chooses if it decides that doing so is in the "public interest".

the case revolved around a connecticut town that wanted to tear down seven working-class homes and replace them with a waterfront hotel, a health club, and other hoity-toity high-revenue stuff. the residents, convinced that they have a right to personal property, said "hell no, we won't go". scotus says "hell yes, you will".

the town apparently thinks that waterfront hotels and fancy health clubs do more for the public good than low-income housing, and puzzlingly, five supreme court justices agreed.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said, "Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted governmental function, and there is no principled way of distinguishing it from the other public purposes the court has recognized."

yes, there is "no principled way" to distinguish between a public service (say, a subway line, interstate, or road improvements) and private land development, according to stevens.

Justice Stevens noted that the homes in question could not be considered a slum area, and that indeed some of the people have lived in their homes for decades. Rather, he said, the properties "were condemned only because they happen to be located in the development area."

"In affirming the city's authority to take petitioners' properties, we do not minimize the hardship that condemnations may entail, notwithstanding the payment of just compensation," Justice Stevens wrote, adding that local governments have the authority to refine their condemnation policies, and curb them if they wish.

if you live in the wrong neighborhood, the government can now take your home away if it wants to put in something "better" than your house. though "better" almost certainly means "richer" or "paying more taxes".

the seeming irony is that the justices who are often called the "liberal" justices were the ones in the majority. some conservatives are trying to use this as evidence that "the left" is intellectually corrupt or what-have-you. of course, it doesn't really mean anything of the sort: if anything, it only shows that those justices aren't really all that liberal, unless you're comparing them to the "conservatives" on the court. and considering that scalia and thomas are so far to the right that they're driving on the shoulder rather than the actual road, just about anyone could be considered liberal in comparison.

the grokster decision will be announced soon. with scotus's current track record, things don't look very good there.