Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

28 Jun 2005, 8:52 a.m.

SCOTUS Jokes, Lapsing Into Seriousness

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2005 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

On Kelo v. New London: I keep accidentally calling it Keno v. New London, maybe since it's now a gamble whether you get to keep your land.

Every Native American now gets to say, "How does it feel, beeyotch?"

Out of life, liberty, and property, you'd think this administration would have at least protected property.

On MGM v. Grokster: Fred von Lohmann's pre-decision guide claimed, "No matter what, we've won." Leonard shook his head and said, "Whenever you say that, you've lost." He further clarified that trying to take your supporters' eyes off whether you win is a clear sign you're losing. Remember, he has software development AND Clark campaign experience!

On FCC v. Brand X (FAQ): if DSL is a common carrier and cable internet isn't, does that mean that cable internet providers can (and have to!) monitor usage for illegal activity but DSL providers don't? OK, not so much a joke as a bewildered hypothetical.

More seriously, on Kelo and on Frances's post and the ensuing discussion: I am trying to articulate why this decision seems so wrong, and reading SCOTUSblog's discussion on it to help me. Frances gets at it when she says, "But in this case, it's not the government building a necessary road, it's the government getting in bed with the private sector to construct an office complex on the land."

The whole point of laissez-faire capitalism is that people are free to make their own decisions in the open market. But why should real estate developers be forced to bargain with sellers when they can make noises about tax revenue (foofaraw promises that will disappear as soon as another municipality gives them a better tax break) and get the government to help them force citizens to sell their rightful property?

What is a public works project? It's kind of like Karl Popper said - I can't say what it is, but I can say what it isn't. Maybe a dam. Maybe a road. Maybe a hospital. Maybe a subway. But it has to be something that will end up owned by the people, through their elected government. Not a privately owned mall. Not a privately owned office park. "Our smoke-and-mirrors projections say it'll bring in tax revenues" is not enough.

John: I understand that you were talking about eminent domain in general, not Kelo. And yeah, the building of roads, highways, railroads, and in general the infrastructure of our civilization involved a lot of eminent domain (and a lot of fraud!).

But just compensation at or above fair market value is a given in eminent domain cases. Maybe I'm confused, but I can't figure out how "fair market value" is ever generous. Is "they'll get FMV money for it that they can use to buy something nicer" really generosity when the recipient doesn't have a choice in the matter? If the government gave you a million dollars and forced you to give up your religion, would you consider that a fair trade? Would you be glad it had happened? What happens when the neighborhood containing the Newport Beach temple comes under the lustful, scheming gaze of some city planner or some developer?

I'm not even certain I agree with Frances in calling the San Jose landowners recipients of a windfall. I'd want victims of eminent domain to receive substantially more than FMV to compensate them for the coercion involved.

Unlike Frances, I'm not up on local abuse-of-ED cases. But power corrupts, and some people within government will try to abuse their powers, and grab after expansions of those powers, and work to dismantle the ability of victims to fight back. And after getting all that power, they'll have to give it up and be mad when the next officeholders come into office and use it.

It's like Jefferson said - if men were angels, we wouldn't need a government in the first place. The limitation of the government's power protects the citizenry. And if you're a Republican who has lost interest in that sort of thing, ask yourself - would you be okay with a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President exercising that power?