Eminent Domain Trumps your Property Rights

In the ready, shoot, aim world of Donald Trump, the adage that a bell cannot be unrung undeniably applies and particularly with his statement that eminent domain, the government’s taking of private property for what Marxists and socialists would call “the greater good”, is “wonderful”. He has since, in Clintonian fashion, tried to qualify and parse his remarks, but the curtain has been pulled away from the billionaire developer.

In his interview with Fox News anchor Bret Baier, Trump said what he meant was the taking of property, with adequate compensation, for a public use such as a highway, but he quickly expanded his definition to include the taking of property from a private owner and giving it to another private owner -- for profit:

“If you have a factory, where you have thousands of jobs, you need eminent domain, it’s called economic development,” Trump said. “Now you’re employing thousands of people and you’re able to build a factory, you’re able to build an Apple computer center, where thousands of people can work. You can do that, or you can say, ‘Let the man have his house.’”

This country was established with private property rights as the bedrock of our democracy and if “In God We Trust” were not our national motto, it just might be, “Let the man have his house.” Taking that man’s house, his Trump Tower, for an Apple computer center destroys the meaning of private property.

His full-throated support for the eminent domain decision by the U.S. Supreme Court shows that he doesn’t limit his embrace of taking private property for the public good, such as building a highway or a hospital. As Ilya Somin, professor of law at George Mason University, writes in the Washington Post:

“Trump did not merely claim that the Kelo v. New London decision was legally correct; he argued that it was ‘good’ to give government the power to forcibly displace homeowners and small businesses and transfer their property to influential developers on the theory that doing so might promote ‘economic development.’”

Trump did not note, as Fox News reported, that nine years after government seized the homes of private citizens like the little pink house of Suzanne Kelo, the land remained vacant and undeveloped. But the taking of private property is another bell of government abuse that cannot be unrung:

“See that pole with the transformer hanging from it?” Michael Cristofaro, a 52-year-old computer network engineer, told The Weekly Standard, which recently visited the town. “That was where my family’s home was.”….

 “The homeowners were dispossessed for nothing,” wrote The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby. “Fort Trumbull was never redeveloped. Pfizer itself bailed out of New London in 2009. The Kelo decision was a disaster, as even the city’s present political leaders acknowledge.”

As Investor’s Business Daily editorialized, Kelo was a decision that wrote law rather than interpreted law, that amended the U.S. Constitution without passage by Congress and ratification by the states, and said that your home is not necessarily your property, but merely a parcel on loan from the government:

On June 3, 2005, by a 5-4 margin, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively repealed the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, deciding that your constitutional right to be secure in your home didn't matter if your state or community decided your property could produce more revenue as a shopping mall or condominium development.

Pfizer coveted Susette Kelo's working-class neighborhood for an office park and condominium complex. The city fathers of New London, Conn., salivated over the prospect of new and robust tax revenues and worked to make that happen despite the resistance of Kelo and her neighbors. Kelo's little pink house stood in the way.

Ironically, it was the Supreme Court, in the early days of our republic when the arbitrary and despotic rule by the British Crown was still on everyone’s mind, who warned us that eminent domain would be a power that would predictably be abused by government:

The Supreme Court warned in the 1795 case of Vanhorn’s Lessee v. Dorrance: “The despotic power… of taking private property when state necessity requires, exists in every government.” Their view then was that the state must not exercise that power “except in urgent cases.”

 With the struggle for liberty and freedom still fresh in their minds, the justices could not imagine a situation “in which the necessity of a state can be of such a nature as to authorize or to excuse the seizing of landed property belonging to one citizen, and giving it to another citizen.”

Government has an obligation to make sure the right of citizens to be secure in their homes is not infringed -- by the British or by the bulldozer.

Amen to that. Sorry, Donald, let the man keep his house.

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.