Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

February 23, 2005

Is Your Property Yours?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:34 pm

This is the question taken up yesterday by the Supreme Court. As you probably know, the Fifth Amendment states:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

That last phrase refers to the state’s power of “eminent domain,” whereby they can take your property — if they pay you its fair market value — for “public use,” say, to build a new highway.

But can they take it for private use also? In other words, can the government forcibly take your house and sell it to someone else, just because they’d rather someone else have it instead of you? The answer, for the last 60 years, has been “yes.” They can take your house if they think someone else will make the neighborhood nicer, or if they think someone else will give them more tax revenue. (Say, if the “someone else” will build a store, and the sales tax they pay will be more than the property tax you pay.)

In other words, your property is yours only as long as the federal, state, county, and municipal governments all haven’t thought of anyone they think is more deserving of it than you are.

I was going to write a long involved post about this, but Kevin at The Smallest Minority beat me to it, and wrote basically everything I wanted to say. Read his entire post.

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