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HOW HE SEES IT Congress must act to protect private property



Published: Tue, July 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By BILL FERGUSON

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

This is the time of year when the Supreme Court tends to get busy and hand down its biggest decisions. Not coincidentally, it's also the time of year when a lot of people get really upset with the Supreme Court.

I can't recall any decision from our highest court generating as much outrage as their ruling last week on the subject of eminent domain. I wasn't born yet when they outlawed organized prayer in schools and I wasn't old enough to comprehend such things when they legalized abortion, but I can only imagine that public reaction in those cases was comparable to what we're seeing now.

One thing is for sure -- people are upset, and well they should be. Plain and simple, the eminent domain ruling means that your local government has the right to take your property on behalf of any private party that has a plan to use it in a manner that would generate more tax revenue than what it is currently being used for.

I'm not going to waste your time by pointing out why this decision is wrong-headed and dangerous. Anyone with a whit of common sense can see this as the unmitigated disaster for private property rights that it obviously represents.

Our judiciary has gone derelict in its duty to protect some of our most basic constitutional rights. What I want to know is how our legislative branch, the body that is supposed to provide check and balance to this off-kilter judiciary, is going to respond to this outrageous decision.

Congressional reaction

So far the response in Congress has been underwhelming. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate encouraging states to pass laws protecting private property rights, but these laws would amount to mere window dressing. They would do nothing to impede state and local governments from creatively defining the meaning of "public use" to fit their own agendas.

Congress can do better than that. I suggest that they temporarily table their effort to pass a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning (as crucial as that is to our national interests) and get to work on an amendment that will clearly delineate a citizen's right to own property without fear of profit-driven government seizure.

Here's a suggestion on how such an amendment might read:

"No government agency within the United States shall have the authority to condemn, seize or otherwise interfere with the ownership of property by citizens unless said property is required for the construction of public roads, schools, fire or police departments or other facilities that benefit the general public. The involuntary seizure of private property by any government agency for the purpose of private development, even when said development would increase tax revenue or otherwise increase the perceived value of the property, shall not be construed as a valid 'public use' as defined in Article V of this document and is hereby prohibited."

I think such an amendment would clarify things nicely and make all of us sleep a little better at night.

Tragic repercussions

If anyone has a better solution, now is the time to offer it. Something needs to be done, because I believe the repercussions from this decision could be tragic.

This is an intrusion on one of our most basic freedoms and some people are going to resist this decision, likely with force in some cases. What happens when some American refuses to vacate his home when the government tries to seize his property to make way for a gas station or a used car lot? Do the police haul him off to jail, or shoot him?

This could get ugly.

X Bill Ferguson is a columnist for the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.




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