I wrote the following mini-essay for this week's Las Vegas Weekly. But I also wrote it for you. :) Enjoy!
The following mini-essay is really boring. Unless you’re a stuck-up know-it-all who’s intent on following “the issues” and putting your friends to sleep at cocktail parties, you’ll probably want to skip over it, flip to this week’s club ads, and stare at all the pictures of the pretty girls in skimpy skirts.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten rid of the riffraff, let’s get down to business.
Every now and then the Supreme Court of the United States does something really stupid. Four years ago, in a comically blatant violation of the Fifth Amendment, the Court held that state and local governments could take land from private owners and give it to other private owners. So, yeah, I’d consider that a “really stupid” decision.
Sure, the government always had the right to take land for itself (this power is called “eminent domain” and it’s rooted in the common law). But the Founding Fathers inserted the Takings Clause into the Fifth Amendment to ensure the government would only take land from private individuals “for public use” (and with just compensation). The Supreme Court’s four-year-old Kelo v. City of New London ruling obliterated that limitation. Now the government can take land from whomever and give it to whomever for whatever reason. (Maybe I’m overstating it a bit, but that’s the direction we’re heading.)
Aside from NAACP, AARP, SCLC, and Libertarian Party members, most people don’t appreciate how wrong and potentially destructive the court’s holding in Kelo was. Case-in-point: shoe-in Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. During her confirmation hearings, Sotomayor summarized the court’s Kelo ruling like this: “The court held that a taking to develop an economically blighted area was appropriate.” Nope! The land wasn’t blighted. (In his majority opinion, Justice Stevens wrote, “There is no allegation that any of these properties is blighted or otherwise in poor condition.”) Nothing wrong with the land at all—the city of New London simply wanted to give it to somebody else.
So if a Supreme Court nominee won’t stand up for property owners’ rights, who will? Who will stand up for the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution? Why, Senator John Ensign will!
Senator Ensign proposed a bill (Private Property Rights Protection Act) which, if passed, would deny federal funds to state and local governments if they took advantage of the Kelo ruling (and reassigned land from one private owner to another). Senator John Cornyn and a couple of random Congressmen have proposed similar legislation, but so far nothing has passed. There’s still a lot of persuading and deal making to be done, and we could use more congresspersons like Ensign to fight against this awful holding.
Amidst scandal, it’s important to pause and take note of one thing Senator Ensign got right. And now that we’ve done that, we can go stare at the pictures of the pretty girls in skimpy dresses.