Righting a wrong on property rights
Threaten hearth and home, as a Supreme Court ruling on property rights did last year, and Americans will run to bar the door. Since the "Kelo" ruling, 30 states have passed laws to better protect property owners. Now the issue is on a dozen state ballots, making it the No. 1 initiative topic in the US.
The speed with which the states reacted is breathtaking – an expression of the outrage Americans felt when the High Court ruled in June 2005 that it was OK for New London, Conn., to take the home of Susette Kelo to make way for a private commercial project that would produce jobs and tax revenue.
The Fifth Amendment allows for government takings of private property for public use – if owners are justly compensated. What set radio talk shows abuzz was the court's broad interpretation of "public use" to allow "public purpose." It wasn't just building of public schools and roads that could justify takings, or eminent domain, but private economic development deemed beneficial to the public.
Americans understandably have a reflex reaction against anything that endangers property rights. These rights reflect bedrock values of individual freedom and economic opportunity. Nothing affirms the American dream like ownership of a home or business.
That's why the High Court, despite its ruling, also invited states to enact laws to rein in this type of eminent domain. Most states hopped right to it. And mostly, they've been fairly smart about it.