[from June 2006 issue]


As readers of this column have surely noticed, from time-to-time we like to share the views put forth by Gary Imhoff and Dorothy Brizill that they circulate from their “good government” watchdog perch at DC Watch. So it was that on this very day as we were formulating in our mind what we might try to write down in this space about the worrisome matter of eminent domain, we were nicely spurred on by the following observation being shared in their twice-weekly electronic newsletter, TheMail:

“There is no hope that the city council will do anything to protect citizens against the use of the city's eminent domain powers to benefit private developers, as yesterday's council vote on Sursum Corda made clear. The operating theory of the Williams administration, fully endorsed by the council, is that ‘a man's home is his castle’ until somebody richer and better connected wants it.”

How depressing, but so very accurately stated.

The people who live in that complex off North Capitol Street on the eastern edge of Shaw were on their way to being able to acquire their homes for themselves after extensive and complicated negotiations that would require many pages to describe. Yet, pretty much out of the blue comes the city planning gang spurred on by the mayor with a scheme that is intended to once again benefit more of the Big Boys. And the Little People get the shaft.

It certainly seems as if the mayor is trying frantically to take care of all his fat-cat buddies during his remaining months in office, working overtime to shove this and that down our collective throats -- like the stadium deal or the plan to give away the historic MLK Library building or the fast-tracking of the comprehensive plan re-write so lickity-split that residents were lucky if they had even half a week to review the hundreds of pages of that complex proposal prior to their community sessions with city planners (who undoubtedly had already made up their minds anyway).

It is alarming that our city council members have not taken steps to enact legislation that would serve to protect us from the Supreme Court’s holding in the New London case. It can be done by this council as it has already been done in some state legislatures. There is no constitutional requirement that a state or territorial government must allow eminent domain to further private enterprise; the states and territories are free to proactively enact appropriate protections for their citizens in these matters.

We should be insisting that our elected legislators do likewise.

They should be asking themselves the same questions that were being addressed at a debate sponsored by the Ayn Rand Institute on May 1st at the National Press Club:

“Is it appropriate under certain circumstances for the government to use eminent domain for the purpose of transferring a citizen's property to a private business -- or is this practice wrong in principle? Moreover, while the government is constitutionally authorized to take citizens' property for ‘public use,’ the question remains: Is this policy moral -- and is it practical? Does the government have a moral right to take citizens' property under certain conditions -- or do citizens have an absolute right to their personal property? Does robust economic development require the occasional use of eminent domain -- or would economic progress be greater if property rights were upheld as truly inalienable? What are the moral issues involved in eminent domain? What are the practical issues? Are the moral and the practical necessarily at odds -- or can they be reconciled?”

We urge our political leaders to reflect on these questions and work to devise limits on this government's power to seize our property for the benefit of private enterprises. And, if our leaders choose not to give these matters serious consideration then they must be held accountable to us voters.

Copyright (c) 2006 InTowner Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.