Supreme Court Is Wrong

About Property Rights

A number of people have suggested that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Kelo v. City of New London case, a 5 to 4 decision to uphold local governments' rights to use eminent domain, is akin to Robin Hood in reverse. That's exactly what it is. The ruling allows municipalities to steal property from the poor and give those assets to rich, greedy, land-grabbing developers. This decision is the most egregious interpretation of the Constitution in the last 200-plus years. It is the ultimate degradation of one's property rights in this country.

Susette Kelo and eight of her neighbors filed suit against the city of New London, Conn. The city wanted to commandeer their properties and, in turn, allow Pfizer Inc. to expand its holdings on the waterfront by building additional homes and offices, in addition to a retail complex. All of this was to be done under the guise of "public use," because the new facilities would generate greater tax revenues than that of the current homeowners. The real irony is that none of the properties are blighted or in a poor condition. In fact, one of the residents has resided in her home for 87 years.

It is the job of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution, not to change its meaning. In essence, the court has changed the Fifth Amendment, which states that "private property shall not be taken for public use, without just compensation," to "private property shall not be taken for public or private use, without just compensation." That opens the door for the indiscriminate use of eminent domain and will ultimately have a disproportionate impact on poor communities.

The court did acknowledge that its ruling would allow states to enact legislation outlawing the taking of private property for economic development. Hopefully Virginia will not allow cities to exercise the use of eminent domain. In Alexandria, the city is on record stating that it may use eminent domain to seize seven properties on the waterfront. In addition, on Feb. 3, the president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce stated that the chamber would "weigh in" regarding the redevelopment of the waterfront and that he "would hope it would not come down to the use of eminent domain."

The Alexandria City Council never met a developer it didn't love. It is still continuing the "bricks and mortar" development campaign it initiated in 1996, which has caused some of the area's worst traffic jams. It is not only conceivable, but also likely, that if given the chance, it would use the powers of eminent domain in a heartbeat. What Alexandria desperately needs is a short-term building moratorium to improve its infrastructure before it tackles any more large-scale developments.

The Supreme Court has completely undermined the work of our Founding Fathers. This atrocious decision vividly points out how important it is to get the right people on the bench. My great, great, great, great, great-grandfather, George Mason, who helped write the Fifth Amendment, is most likely rolling over in his grave as a result of this shameful decision by the liberal members of the Supreme Court.

Townsend A.

"Van" Van Fleet