by Senator Larry Craig
Every homebuilder and carpenter knows that the most important part of building a home is the part that comes first – laying the foundation. Without a solid base, the most carefully built home will soon sag and crumble. Unfortunately, some Americans may soon find their homes pulled from beneath them like a rug.
The protection of private property against government seizure is a foundational principle in this country, which is why I have long worked for private property rights in my time the U.S. House of Representatives and now the U.S. Senate.
Our Founders believed the right of individuals to acquire, possess and use property is one of the natural rights that does not depend on government for its existence; on the contrary, governments were formed, in part, to protect that right. Those early citizens also saw the right to private property as the key to spurring individual initiative and productivity that would ensure national prosperity and security.
For these reasons, the concept of property and the importance of its protection permeates the Constitution. There are references to it throughout the document, in addition to the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that property will not be taken by the government unless it is for the public use and fair compensation is paid.
That firm foundation was badly shaken recently by the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London. This decision will allow local authorities to take property purely for economic development. In doing so, the Supreme Court abandoned the “public use” requirement, effectively eliminating the Fifth Amendment protection for private property.
It’s particularly baffling to see the Supreme Court eliminate a guarantee that is specifically enumerated in the Constitution, when the same court has historically been willing to conjure rights not mentioned anywhere in the document, such as the “right to privacy.” One of the dissenting Justices found that example especially noteworthy, pointing out that after Kelo, while we are still secure inside our homes from government intrusion, the homes themselves are not!
Congress was quick to react to the Kelo decision. Measures were introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to prevent the federal government from taking private property for economic development. The Senate bill, “The Protection of Homes, Small Businesses, and Private Property Act of 2005,” which I am cosponsoring, also restricts the ability of local governments from using federal funding for that purpose. I will do all I can to update our laws so the federal government or its resources cannot diminish private property rights.
Unfortunately, the problem cannot be completely solved on the federal level. It will be up to individual state legislatures to restrict their respective states from using state tax dollars in the same way. Stay tuned to see if this becomes an issue for the Idaho State Legislature.
Private property is not just the physical foundation of our country; it is our historical, philosophical, and economic foundation, as well. It supports the common good with taxes, and allows individuals to achieve the American dream.
Mankind has known for thousands of years that a solid foundation is absolutely necessary for a solid structure, with references even appearing in the Bible. The Founders understood that the protection of private property must be the bedrock of our free society. However, the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision has turned that foundation to sand.