Precarious life, restricted liberty, unhappiness 4

In a free country, the liberty of everyone is protected by the rule of law. If freedom is indivisible, no country is free. Some protect freedom to some extent. Many don’t do it at all.

The United States was founded on the principle that the law should protect individual liberty. But all too often, and increasingly, it fails to do so.

Let’s look at just one case where the principle was violated.

Jeff Jacoby writes at Townhall:

Nearly nine years have elapsed since the US Supreme Court, in one of its most notorious rulings, decided that seven homeowners in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn., had no property rights which City Hall was bound to respect. Today Fort Trumbull is a wasteland, as a detailed new report confirms.

The court’s 2005 holding in Kelo v. City of New London gave local officials a green light to seize and demolish private homes through eminent domain, then turn the land over to developers itching to build something more lucrative. In Fort Trumbull, those private homeowners included people such as Susette Kelo, a local nurse who bought her little Victorian cottage on the Thames River because she loved its waterfront view; Wilhelmina Dery, who was born in her house on Walbach Street in 1918 and had been living there all her life; and Pasquale and Margherita Cristofaro, whose home on Goshen Street was the second New London property they lost to eminent domain, the first having been taken 30 years earlier because the city intended to construct a seawall. (The seawall was never built.)

Their homes, like those of their neighbors, were targeted at the urging of Pfizer, Inc. The pharmaceutical giant was building a major research facility nearby and wanted city officials to pave the way for a “world-class redevelopment” that would appeal to the business leaders, scientists, and other professionals the new headquarters was expected to attract. “Pfizer wants a nice place to operate,” a supercilious executive said in 2001. “We don’t want to be surrounded by tenements.”

The Fifth Amendment’s “Takings Clause” authorizes eminent-domain takings, but only when property is needed “for public use” — for example, to build a post office, widen a road, or create a reservoir. Fort Trumbull’s homeowners argued all the way up to the Supreme Court that their homes weren’t being seized for “public use” but for private use. Under the Constitution, they insisted, the city had no right to forcibly transfer their property to a private developer in the hope that new development would yield higher tax revenues or new jobs. 

But five justices — John Paul Stevens, Steven Breyer, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Anthony Kennedy — decided otherwise. With their imprimatur, New London confiscated the modest but well-cared-for homes of Fort Trumbull. The last remaining owners were forced out. The bulldozers moved in. The land was cleared for the kind of upscale redevelopment that Pfizer and its political allies in New London craved: a posh hotel, a conference center, a condominium complex, a health club, and high-end shops.

And how did it all end up?

When journalist Charlotte Allen went recently to New London to find out, what she found, as she reported in the Weekly Standard, was “a vast, empty field —  90 acres — that was entirely uninhabited and looked as though it had always been that way”. There is no hotel, no health club, no condos. The neighborhood that for generations had been home to working-class families like the Derys and Cristofaros is now a “deserted incline”,  where the only signs of life are “waist-high dead weeds”.

The homeowners were dispossessed for nothing. Fort Trumbull was never redeveloped. Pfizer itself bailed out of New London in 2009. Kelo was a disaster, as even the city’s present political leaders acknowledge. Allen writes that the current mayor, who was elected in 2011, has formally apologized to the Kelo plaintiffs, calling the decision a “black stain” on New London’s reputation. City officials agreed to install a plaque on the heights above the Thames in memory of Margherita Cristofaro, who died during the long legal battle. It notes that she and her family “made significant contributions to the Italian-American community, sacrificing two family homes to the eminent domain process”.

If anything good came of Kelo, it was the furious nationwide backlash, which led a number of states — Massachusetts, unfortunately not among them — to pass new laws protecting property ownersfrom abusive eminent-domain takings. But such still happens, and will go on happening until Kelo is overruled.

The founders put the Takings Clause in the Bill of Rights for a reason. The desolation that is Fort Trumbull is a grim reminder that where property rights aren’t secure, neither is freedom — and without freedom, there is nothing the government can’t destroy.

  • Don L

    The idea that our founding fathers would have given 9 black robed judges the power to decide over every facet of a citizen’s life is absurd. Indeed, there are thre coequal branches of the United States agency, the federal government. It is important to comprehend that Constitution established a confederacy of independent and free states…free nations…Not the United States IS, but rather the United States ARE.

    The federal supreme court was to only adjudicate issues bewtween states. Staes would decide what was or wasn’t constitutional…they have the rights of nullification and secession respective of the central governments impositions. The supreme court, as an equal branch, did not have the power to even rule on either of the other branchs’ actions as to Constitutionality.

    Yet even before the ink was dry on the Constitution, the monarchists (Alexander Hamilton and his supporters) and their bretheren set about distorting the law…destroying the republic. The republic carried on and did quite well…a war raged between the Jeffersonians and the Hamiltonians until Lincoln becam president. Lincoln was a raging Hamiltonian. He had been working to destroy state’s rights since the 1830s and had been frustrated time and again. Once elected, he wasted no time destroying the States.

    The guarantor of unalienable rights and consent of the governed was the construction of the checks and balances established by the Constitution: limited enumerated powers, equal branchs and sovereignty of States. Lincoln’s War killed 5% of the nations 1860s population and injured & maimed another 15%; was waged, against the Geneva convention of the day, against unarmed civilians including women,children and the elderly; included unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus and violent and murderous suppression of speech and the rights of assembly; allowed arrst of supreme court justices and deportation and arrest of individual as well as entire legislative bodies of states, established a secret police and unconstitutional use of armed forces to arrest and imprison tens of thousands of citizens merely for opposing Lincoln’s policies; and, resulted in destroying the willful union of free states, thereby destroying the rights of states, and establishing a union of states held together by force of arms.

    Lincoln destroyed the states in order to create the State. The chains on the central government were broken and unalienable rights and the idea that the individual was sovereign were gone. Today the Supreme court, an arm of the federal government, decides the limits on the central government…and because of the traitorous justice Roberts…there are no limits and government can make you do anything or go to jail, at the least.

    The very dollars in your pocket are not yours…as you sit and read this the government is making every printed piece of paper worth less…they are printing 85 billion dollars of money (electronically of course) every month. The thing about counterfeiting, he who countertfeits gets to use the money first at its highest value…it’s worth less by the time it gets to you…having diluted the pool of dollars…so government has been and is stealing the value of your money…eh, it never was yours doncha know all along.

    Thanks to Lincoln…there arte no rights. The only thing holding the government in check is the perception of life, liberty and property rights.

    Not to worry, the progressives, especially under the new destroyer-in-chief are wiping out those lingering ideas with new generations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_l8KK3gGxQ

    • liz

      Good post! “Not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general govt.” – How far we’ve fallen down the slippery slope since Jefferson said that – now we are united in exactly that principle – submit to the federal government or suffer the consequences of the IRS, whether it’s paying taxes or choosing a “healthcare” plan.
      We’ve been eased into a dictatorship one step at a time, like the boiled frog.

      • Don L

        Boiled frog…Liz, you from Louisiana? LOL.

        • liz

          No, but I have eaten frog legs!