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A Shocking Ruling

Editorial for July 7, 2005

Count us among the stunned when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Kelo v. City of New London last week.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court decided that local government jurisdictions have the authority to take private land and property and turn that property over to private developers for economic development purposes.

That ruling basically grants the power of eminent domain to powerful corporations. It effectively strips property rights from every individual American, and essentially hands the power to take any American's home and property to city councils and county commissioners across the land.

The court's ruling, which we find incomprehensible, gives municipalities the power to literally bulldoze private homes and build private development -- if the move would create a "public benefit" in terms of job creation and/or the generation of tax revenue.

Taken to its limit, can you imagine the White Salmon City Council deciding to take your home and land because it would be an ideal place for a new hotel? Although that seems outlandish, that possibility becomes a reality with this ruling. No one's property is safe or sacred under this decision.

"Every home, church, or corner store would be vulnerable to being replaced by commercial development under this ruling, since they produce more tax revenue," said Scott Bullock, a lawyer representing homeowners in New London, Conn., where this court case originated.

"Someone could knock on your door and tell you that the city council has voted to give your house to someone else because they have nicer plans for the property," added U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay.

Bullock and DeLay are absolute right in their assessment of this alarming decision.

In the state of Washington, there is already legislation on the books that forbids the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes, unless a specific project is geared to "eliminate blight." Will this ruling overturn that law?

Now, in the wake of the court's decision, Congress is moving to pass legislation that would ban the use of federal funds for any project that uses this ruling to seize private property.

That's a good step in the right direction, but it cannot begin to make up for the shock of seeing our Supreme Court -- supposed to be a beacon to protect all of us from government abuse -- issue this edict.

JB

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