Five years after Kelo property right still threatened

Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted an important private property protection in the U.S. Constitution. In Kelo v. New London, the court wrongfully decided it was acceptable for government to condemn and seize private property and give it to another owner.

To call attention to this unjust decision, the chairs of the 50 state Libertarian Party chapters and the members of the Libertarian National Committee have signed an open letter calling on the Supreme Court to reverse the Kelo ruling in a future case. They also called on state governments to adopt laws or constitutional amendments to eliminate this practice.

Signatories included Barbara Howe, chair of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina. Howe said that in January 2006 the LPNC adopted a resolution supporting a state constitutional amendment to prohibit seizure of private property to benefit private interests.

The LPNC resolution said the state constitution “contains inadequate restrictions on the State’s exercise of the power of eminent domain, in that it does not specifically address the power, merely stating in Article I, Section 19 that ‘No person shall be … deprived of his life, liberty, or property, but by the law of the land …”

House Bill 1659 currently being considered by the N.C. House would amend that section. The proposed amendment would make it clear that “Public use does not include the taking of property in order to convey an interest in the property for economic development.” It would also provide that “Just compensation shall be paid and, if demanded, shall be determined by a jury.”

The constitutional amendment would be submitted to state voters in November 2011 if the bill passes.

The bill has one major flaw, noted Daren Bakst of the John Locke Foundation. “It won’t address the primary means by which the government takes property for economic development: through blight laws, “ he said. “It also doesn’t address the fact that the government will always come up with a reason other than economic development to seize property, and courts will defer to the government and believe this alternative reason.”

Susette Kelo and her co-plaintiffs lost their homes when the New London Development Corp. wanted their land for its own development purposes and convinced New London to condemn their property for its benefit.

In their statement the Libertarian leaders said that the Kelo decision not only gutted private property protection, it also expanded the government’s unjust power of eminent domain.

“Even more shamefully, the proposed development never materialized,” they noted. “Eminent domain is bad enough when it is used to expand government roads and schools, but the practice of forcibly taking a person’s land to give to a company for things like shopping malls is utterly wrong.”

The Libertarian Party platform strongly supports private property rights. Libertarians oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain.

Last year, Susette Kelo commented that “even though over 40 states have passed legislation offering some protection to home and business owners, don’t think your property is safe, because it is not.”

The Castle Coalition, which works to protect property owners from eminent domain abuse, has given only five states an A or A- rating for eminent domain reform in the wake of the Kelo decision. North Carolina rates a C-.

Many states, like North Carolina, have passed reforms that sound strong at first, but contain major loopholes or other bad provisions. Republicans and Democrats like to posture as eminent domain reformers while they carve out exceptions for special interests. In North Carolina, the taxpayer-funded N.C. League of Municipalities also opposes any restrictions on eminent domain, including HB 1659.

Suggested reading

Eminent Domain in N.C.: The Case for Real Reform