Last month’s United States Supreme Court decision in the Kelo v. New London case strikes at the heart of our freedoms and, if left unchallenged, imperils our right to life itself.
How do we derive such a broad threat from this private property case? Let’s look at the conclusions of the court.
In the Kelo decision, the nine justices on the Supreme Court voted 5-4 that the city of New London, Connecticut, could take away Susette Kelo’s property, including her house, and transfer it to the New London Development Corporation, a private business, for possible real estate development in the future.
Their conclusion is a frightening “revision” of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which explicitly and plainly limits government in the prohibition “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Public use includes projects such as public roads or public buildings not private real estate development.
It may seem a stretch to get from government-taking-private-land to government-taking-a-person’s-life. Yet the attitudes and policy positions used to justify this taking of personal homes strike us as transferable to the control of government over individual life.
For example, Claire Gaudiani, former president of the New London Development Corporation, tried to justify the destruction of Kelo’s neighborhood by saying, “Anything that’s working in our great nation is working because somebody left skin on the sidewalk.” Obviously, Gaudiani preferred that somebody else’s skin be left on the pavement, not her own.
This type of justification began in the 1954 Berman v. Parker case when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the social engineering goal of revitalizing “blighted” urban areas was enough to allow condemnation of buildings and property for real estate development. The Constitution’s “public use” requirement was transmuted into “public purpose.” Subsequently, as the Institute for Justice notes, “public use became public purpose, which then became public benefit”
Taking property because it’s blighted or could serve some “better” use has parallels with allowing killing of some human beings because they are weak and “marginal” so that others can “get on with their lives.” A court condemned Terri Schiavo to death precisely because her life was deemed too blighted to preserve. Mothers are allowed, nay encouraged, to abort their unborn children if they are deemed inconvenient.
This latest Supreme Court decision provides new excuses for taking private property, and potentially opens the door to another justification for ending human life.
Most individual parcels of land provide relatively little tax money for the government. Our Supreme Court has now ruled that a local government’s quest for more money is a good reason for allowing them to remove a private person’s property and hand it to another private entity, based merely on a possibility that it might make the local government richer.
Following a similar logic, sick or infirm people whose needs are “too expensive” could be required to forfeit their lives in the name of the public benefit.
This concern is not an abstract fear. Poverty and weakness are already justifications for euthanasia in some countries. For example, the Netherlands affords few protections to an individual who is construed to be a financial burden to the government or a family. American state and federal judges and courts are achieving euthanasia goals through the back door of the utilitarian judicial thinking used in the Kelo and Schiavo cases.
So, as a bulwark to protect human life and other liberties, we recommend acting now to preserve private property rights.
What to do? So far, property rights are still largely governed by state and local laws. Some states, such as the state of Washington, already prohibit government taking of private property for private development. Connecticut, on the other hand, allows such takings – a position upheld by both the Connecticut and United States Supreme Courts in the Kelo case.
National and state groups, such as the Castle Coalition, http://www.castlecoalition.org, are working to update national and state laws and constitutions to protect human rights and property from unjustifiable government takings.
We must join the battle begun on July 4, 1776, as articulated in our Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Our courts are becoming agents of the destruction of our “unalienable rights.” If the courts continue to alter and abolish our Constitution, we, the People, must “alter or abolish” the courts or suffer further loss of “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Editor’s Note: Robert J. Cihak wrote this week’s column.
Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Senior Fellow and Board Member of the Discovery Institute and a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple-award-winning writer who comments on medical-legal issues.