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.

Good riddance! 0

In an article titled Good Riddance, Thomas Sowell rebukes the Republican Party for its weak inclination when in power to govern like Democrats, in this candid assessment of the harm retiring Justice Stevens, a President Ford appointee, has done:

When Supreme Court Justices retire, there is usually some pious talk about their “service,” especially when it has been a long “service.” But the careers of all too many of these retiring jurists, including currently retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, have been an enormous disservice to this country.

Justice Stevens was on the High Court for 35 years– more’s the pity, or the disgrace. Justice Stevens voted to sustain racial quotas, created “rights” out of thin air for terrorists, and took away American citizens’ rights to their own homes in the infamous “Kelo” decision of 2005. … In the Supreme Court case of Kelo v. City of New London … Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the Supreme Court opinion that expanded the Constitution’s authorization of seizing private property for “public use” to seizing private property for a “public purpose.” And who would define what a “public purpose” is? Basically, those who were doing the seizing. … Just who was this provision of the Constitution supposed to restrict? Answer: government officials. And to whom would Justice Stevens defer: government officials. Why would those who wrote the Constitution waste good ink putting that protection in there, if not to protect citizens from the very government officials to whom Justice Stevens deferred?

John Paul Stevens is a classic example of what has been wrong with too many Republicans’ appointments to the Supreme Court. The biggest argument in favor of nominating him was that he could be confirmed by the Senate without a fight.

Democratic presidents appoint judges who will push their political agenda from the federal bench, even if that requires stretching and twisting the Constitution to reach their goals.

Republicans too often appoint judges whose confirmation will not require a big fight with the Democrats. You can always avoid a fight by surrendering, and a whole wing of the Republican party has long ago mastered the art of preemptive surrender.

The net result has been a whole string of Republican Justices of the Supreme Court carrying out the Democrats’ agenda, in disregard of the Constitution. John Paul Stevens has been just one.

There may have been some excuse for President Ford’s picking such a man, in order to avoid a fight, at a time when he was an unelected President who came into office in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation in disgrace after Watergate, creating lasting damage to the public’s support of the Republicans.

But there was no such excuse for the elder President Bush to appoint David Souter, much less for President Eisenhower, with back-to-back landslide victories at the polls, to inflict William J. Brennan on the country.

In light of these justices’ records, and in view of how long justices remain on the court, nominating such people was close to criminal negligence.

If and when the Republicans return to power in Washington, we can only hope that they remember what got them suddenly and unceremoniously dumped out of power the last time. Basically, it was running as Republicans and then governing as if they were Democrats, running up big deficits, with lots of earmarks and interfering with the market.

But their most lasting damage to the country has been putting people like John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.