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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

NY Times Discovers Kelo Reaction

An important and insufficiently remarked trend of our time is how many political issues are receiving support that cuts across party lines. School choice is among the most prominent of these, as inner-city minorities realize that it is the quickest way for their children to flee their failing public schools and get a decent education. Common-sense environmentalism is another such case, as increasing numbers of people recognize that technological and economic progress are the most reliable keys to environmental improvement.

Perhaps the most prominent such issue at the moment is the question of state governments' attitudes toward individual property rights. All too frequently, the states' use of eminent domain authority pushes ordinary people out of the way to make way for moneymaking projects of wealthy and politically powerful organizations. Corporations, for example, not only get big tax breaks to build headquarters in a particular locality, they also get prime land that the state has condemned so as to remove its current owners and residents. Typically, the land is declared to be blighted, to satisfy state requirements of state law, but the "blight" is often only in the eye of the beholder.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last June in Kelo vs. New London, Connecticut, which upheld a state's right to take land from some people and give it to others if the state government thought the latter would be able to pay more in taxes, brought this issue to a head. As has been reported regularly during the past year in the Heartland Institute's newspapers (which this author serves as senior editor), a coalition of people from both Left and Right—true liberals from both sides of of the political divide—has come together to limit individual states' power to take private property and give it to other people strictly for economic development purposes.

The New York Times reported on this phenomenon today (finally!):

"It's open season on eminent domain," said Larry Morandi, a land-use specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Bills are being pushed by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and they're passing by huge margins."

Seldom has a Supreme Court decision sparked such an immediate legislative reaction, and one that scrambles the usual partisan lines. Condemnation of the ruling came from black lawmakers representing distressed urban districts, from suburbanites and from Western property-rights absolutists who rarely see eye to eye on anything. Lawmakers from Maine to California have introduced dozens of bills in reaction to the ruling, most of them saying that government should never seize private homes or businesses solely to benefit a private developer.

This is a great example of true liberalism: people defending their neighbors from the depredations of government and business (which all too often go hand in hand).

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