Better Late Than Never

Libertarians, conservatives and even Republicans are voicing their anger and frustration over the apparent knockout blow to property rights delivered by the highest court in the land. In the now infamous 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London , the Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London , Conn. , can seize an individual's property and hand it over to another private party for development. In short, local governments seeking to boost tax revenue through eminent domain now have federal approval to run roughshod over the rights of homeowners.

But what really interests me in this case is the reaction I'm seeing from concerned citizens. New London residents, for example, have organized a rally to protest what they see as an abuse of power by their city council. A hotel developer, in response to the Supreme Court ruling, is now looking to use eminent domain laws to seize the home of Justice David Souter, who was among the majority in the Kelo decision. The property rights issue has become the topic of choice for many television and radio talk shows. Countless conservative and libertarian websites and blogs have lambasted the Supreme Court for trampling on one of the most fundamental rights of every American citizen.

It is nice to see a renewed interest in politics, but where were all of these freedom-fighters--particularly Republicans--prior to this decision? With all the federal government has done to break the spirit of liberty, any reasonable person would have expected this kind of response a long time ago.

Where was the public outcry when Campaign Finance Reform was passed? Yes, there were the obligatory allusions to the First Amendment, but President Bush's supporters led us to believe that his signing of the bill was a brilliant strategic move designed to take away one of the biggest issues of the Democratic Party. Besides, the Supreme Court would most likely strike down the legislation as unconstitutional.

That didn't happen. Instead, the Court upheld the most damning aspects of the law in the case of McConnell v. FEC. Why were there no rallies held in protest of that decision, which essentially killed freedom of speech in this country? Will it now take the Federal Election Commission cracking down on political bloggers to ignite the passions of freedom-loving Americans?

Then, of course, there was the PATRIOT Act. Despite the fact that this law granted the federal government unprecedented police powers, I don't recall any concerted effort on the part of the Right--especially among Republicans--to get it repealed. No, we were told the law was necessary to the very survival of our nation.

Some of us tried to warn others that this law would be abused in the same way RICO had been, but our words of caution fell on deaf ears. Even when the feds actually began using the PATRIOT Act to investigate crimes unrelated to terrorism, no one seemed to care. Now, the president and members of Congress--again, mostly Republicans--are pushing to renew those portions of the law that are set to expire.

I must admit that I find this change of attitude toward the federal government rather confusing. We have seen that it's possible to take away freedom of speech by limiting what people can say and how they can spend their money and they'll tolerate it without complaint. Pass a law that makes every American citizen a potential terrorist suspect that can be arrested and locked up indefinitely without a trial and they will acquiesce without so much as a whimper because they think it's for the good of the nation. But when the Supreme Court decides that local governments are in a better position than federal judges to make decisions regarding eminent domain, suddenly we fear for our liberty?

Maybe that's just the way it goes. Unlike speech or peace of mind, property is tangible; people take notice when something they possess is at risk of being stolen.

While I do think some of the things written and said about the Kelo decision may be a bit overblown, the High Court once again demonstrated the real problem with the state: the rights of the individual mean nothing when compared to the welfare of the collective. To put that in Star Trek terms: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few . . . or the one."

Such is the nature of the beast. Leviathan exists only to feed itself. Our petty concerns for freedom--in fact, our very existence as individuals--are little more than annoying hindrances to the growth of an already bloated bureaucracy. What few liberties remain are merely scraps that have fallen from the master's table, and the job of the Supreme Court is to sweep them up as quickly as possible lest they attract unwanted pests.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to be found in all of this. Americans finally seem to be waking up to the threat posed by unlimited, unrestrained government. Well, better late than never, I suppose.

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Lee Shelton's picture
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Lee R. Shelton IV has been commenting on politics from a libertarian perspective since the 2000 presidential election. Residing in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, he currently covers local issues at