“Property Rights” is usually a slogan conservatives shout out whenever a factory owner has to comply with workers’ safety regulations or a developer has to scale back a large project. However, two pending cases, in Ohio and Connecticut, should be alarming for all of us, regardless of political leanings.
The government has always had the power of eminent domain: forcing the sale of private property for public purposes. Freeways, public buildings, national parks, were all made possible this way.
But increasingly, local governments have been using the power of eminent domain to confiscate private property and sell it to another, wealthier private owner. Using some incredibly twisted logic, local governments are using the “reasoning” that if someone’s house or small business can be replaced by a shopping mall or office building, the increased tax base counts as a “public purpose.”
This should be a red flag for everybody. Whether you rent or own, your place of residence could be condemned to make room for a larger or “nicer” building. No matter how wealthy you might be, there’s always a bigger fish (as Liam Neeson said in the Star Wars prequel).
In Norwood, Ohio, a couple is about to be evicted by the government from the house they’ve owned and lived in for 35 years. The city has bought up homes and businesses in their neighborhood to make way for a mall and upscale apartment complex; the neighborhood has been declared to be “deteriorating.”
The owners of this house have taken their case to court. A judge has already ruled in favor of the city and offered a price to the homeowners for the “sale” of their home. The owners are expected to appeal the ruling.
I hadn’t heard about this case until reading about it yesterday. A similar case in Connecticut has been working its way through the courts. When I first read about it a year or two ago, I didn’t give it much thought. I just figured as soon as the case reached a judge who had two brain cells to rub together, the case would be thrown out and the issue would become moot.
So much for that theory. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the municipal government and against the property owner, and this case is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.