Saturday, February 17, 2007
After reading (OK, skimming) the Nadler/Diamond article on public reaction to Kelo, it occurred to me that one factor that might have increased public outrage was misleading press coverage of the decision.
For example, an article in the Economist (available at 2006 WLNR 20520851) wrote:
Since property rights are one of the foundations on which America's
immense prosperity is built, it seems odd to undermine them. The
framers of the constitution understood this well. True, the fifth
amendment allows the government to take private property, but only for
public use and so long as just compensation is paid. Public use has
long been understood to mean what it says: a road, a public school or
the like. Few would dispute that the state needs a tool (known as the
power of eminent domain, or outside America as compulsory purchase) to prevent a lone homeowner from blocking an interstate highway.
But in June last year the Supreme Court expanded the definition of public use. In the case of Kelo v New London, it ruled, by five votes to four, that the state may seize private property on behalf of private developers, so long as this serves some broadly defined public purpose, such as increasing the flow of taxes into public coffers. In other words, any local government may evict any citizen to make way for someone richer. The four dissenting justices knew this might be a tad controversial. "The spectre of condemnation hangs over all property," fumed Sandra Day O'Connor. "Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."
The article's statements that the "Public use has long been understood to mean what it says: a road, a public school or the like" and that the Court "expanded the meaning of public use" are flat-out wrong . In fact, for decades the Court has understood "public use" to mean "public purpose", no matter how much libertarians may dislike this view. And the article's invocation of the founders in the first paragraph is meant to inflame the reader's emotions by pitting the Founding Fathers against the Framers against the current Court.
And this festering hunk of dishonesty occurred in the Economist (a fairly high-toned publication) several months after the decision (which means the author and editors actually had time to do research!).
If this sort of misinformation is what came out in the Economist, I suspect that less elite sources of information were even more careless.