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Take me out to the ball game where my home once stood

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted July 11, 2005

Wow! When Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA.), one of the most liberal Members of Congress, and Rep. Tom DeLay, one of the most conservative Members of Congress, are sounding the same theme, is there a major issue here or what? What has brought Left and Right together (except for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who apparently supports what has happened) is the "takings" decision by the United States Supreme Court last week. The decision apparently would permit a local or state government to take your home and demolish it if the government can demonstrate some economic benefit to the local or state government in doing so.

Governments always have had the power to take your home to build a road, or school or do some other public work. But now, thanks to this 5 to 4 decision written by Justice David H. Souter, if your city, for example, can demonstrate that by bulldozing your home and those of some neighbors, it can increase its tax base by replacing Home Sweet Home with a shopping center, the city now has the right to do so.

This is what liberals mean when they argue that the Constitution is a "living document." For over two hundred years the takings clause to the U.S. Constitution only applied to a public purpose. Now, the government has the power to throw you out of your home to make some hotel owner rich and in the process get more money in its coffers. I don't ever recall agreeing with anything Rep. Maxine Waters has said. But she is absolutely right when she declared, "This is about as un-American as you can get."

In one Senate office where I worked we had a sign which read, "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session." We need to change that sign to read, "No man's life, liberty and property is safe while the Supreme Court is in session."

People have been confused by the Supreme Court decision on the Ten Commandments. They absolutely have been sickened by the court decisions on life, sodomy and pornography. But for sheer anger this court decision takes the prize. In monitoring various talk shows, hosted by folks of many different stripes, I have yet to hear any caller defend the Supreme Court decision on takings. Callers said they were Democrats, Liberals, Republicans and Conservatives. It didn't matter. They were outraged by this decision.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams issued a statement praising the Supreme Court decision. Sure. He is about to take some local homes to build a new baseball stadium, thus enriching the promoters. He was worried that his action would be challenged in court. Now he has a green light to throw his constituents out on the street to build that stadium.

Yes, Mayor Williams' constituents will be compensated for their loss. But what about this? These homes are in a rather depressed neighborhood so property values will not be that high. Are they to be compensated on the basis of what their homes are worth now or are they to be compensated on the basis of what their homes might be worth had they survived the economic development proposed in their neighborhood?

It is not just the baseball stadium which is to be built there. Developers consider building a hotel and perhaps a shopping center near the proposed stadium. The developers now working with the city demolish all the homes they need for their own purposes because clearly they can demonstrate that the tax base of Washington, D.C. will be in better shape after they build the baseball stadium.

Of course, bills have been introduced in Congress to try to override the Supreme Court decision. The House of Representatives passed a measure stating that no money can be spent to implement this decision. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), a former State Attorney General and former State Supreme Court Justice, introduced a bill simply to limit the power of eminent domain, which Congress apparently could do under certain circumstances.

Right now the people and consequently their congressional representatives are enraged about the Supreme Court decision on the taking of private property. They realize that no man's home is safe with this decision. There is bi-partisan support and the public seems to clamor for Congress to do something about this terrible decision. Guess what? I'm willing to wager lunch at Union Station that by the end of this Congress nothing substantive will have passed both Houses of Congress, been reconciled in conference committee and be sent to the President for his signature.

In the past nearly four decades I have seen the Supreme Court anger the public again and again. I have watched Congress, in certain circumstances, attempt to amend the law and make a Supreme Court decision inapplicable. I was on the Senate Floor early in 1969 when Senate Minority Leader Everett McKinley Dirksen, fresh from his re-election victory, introduced a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court decision on school prayer. It had close to 80 per cent support at the time. Dirksen told his colleagues he thought he was spared by the Lord to manage this amendment and see it through to victory. One should be careful about suggesting the intentions of the Almighty. A few months later Dirksen was dead. The Dirksen amendment was carried by others.

Today the school prayer amendment has the support of 70 per cent of the country. It has gone nowhere and will go nowhere. Same for a constitutional amendment to reverse Roe v. Wade. Maybe, just maybe a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is between one man and one woman – period - could pass, given the strong endorsement of the concept by the States. The marriage amendment still has an uphill battle.

I'll tell you what. If you wait for Congress to act the odds are very much against you. But there is a solution that could be proposed at the local level. Get every city councilman and every state legislator to sign a pledge that, although each can vote to take private property for the benefit of the government in question, he or she will not. If you can get a majority of officials in every city, town and state to sign that pledge you will be reasonably safe.

Will some try to violate the pledge even after they have signed it? Sure. Look at the pledges governors and state legislators have made not to raise taxes. A few have gone back on their word. However, taxes have not been raised in states where a majority of state legislators signed the pledge. It is not a fool proof solution but it could work in many cases.

Yes, voters must keep getting new candidates to sign that pledge as elections are held just as Americans for Tax Reform has them sign pledges to keep taxes from rising. That solution is much better than waiting for Congress to act.

Yes, the local solution is harder. In some cases candidates will refuse to sign the pledge and will win their elections. So be it. That is the way our system works. I hope I am wrong about Congress this time. I fear I am right. Go to it.

Paul M. Weyrich is the Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

 

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