Government Pirates: The Assault on Private Property Rights--and How We Can Fight Itby Don Corace
After years of hard work and saving, you finally own a home. But don't get too comfortable. If government officials decide they want your property, they can take it—for a wide variety of shady reasons that go far beyond the usual definition of "public purposes." The courts have allowed these injustices to persist. And there is nothing you can do about
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After years of hard work and saving, you finally own a home. But don't get too comfortable. If government officials decide they want your property, they can take it—for a wide variety of shady reasons that go far beyond the usual definition of "public purposes." The courts have allowed these injustices to persist. And there is nothing you can do about it—not yet.
Real estate developer and property rights expert Don Corace offers the first in-depth look at eminent domain abuse and other government regulations that are strangling the rights of property owners across America. Government Pirates is filled with shocking stories of corrupt politicians, activist judges, entrenched bureaucrats, greedy developers, NIMBY (Not-in-My-Backyard) activists, and environmental extremists who conspire to seize property and extort money and land in return for permits. Corace provides the hard facts about individual rights and offers invaluable advice for those whose property may be in danger. It is the one book that every property owner in America has to read.
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Property for the Taking
" . . . nor shall private property be taken for public use
without just compensation."
... Fifth Amendment, U.S.
Constitution (Takings Clause)
June 23, 2005, was a very dark day in our nation's history. It was the day four men and one woman, dressed in black robes and sitting in a marbled temple in Washington, handed the government another weapon to continue its assault on our private property rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled five to four in Kelo v. New London, Connecticut that the city could use its powers of eminent domain to promote economic development by "taking" waterfront homes and businesses and handing them over to a private developer to build a luxury hotel and upscale condos. A dangerous legal precedent had been set. The nation was outraged. Newspaper editorials throughout the country attacked the decision:
• A Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA) headline read "Court-Endorsed Theft."
• A St. Petersburg Times (FL) editorial read "Eminent Mistake."
• A Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN) editorial wrote "Your Home, Freedom Attacked."
• And the Hartford Courant (CT) wrote "A Sad Day for Property Rights."
There were, however, a few exceptions. In a New York Times editorial titled "The Limits of Property Rights," the paper said the ruling was "a welcome vindication of cities' ability to act in the public interest" and a "setback to the 'property rights' movement, which is trying to block government from imposing reasonable zoning and environmental regulations. "The Washington Post also sided withthe Times.
On Fox TV's Hannity & Colmes, conservative Sean Hannity and liberal Alan Colmes vowed to expose eminent domain abuse. Rush Limbaugh, libertarian radio host Neal Boortz , and consumer advocate Ralph Nader were all critical of the decision. Even columnists like the late Molly Ivins, an activist for the left, and George Will, a staunch conservative, opposed the ruling.
The media attention even caused a backlash against two of the five U.S. Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of the decision. In New Hampshire, that state's Libertarian Party initiated a drive to use eminent domain to take Justice Stephen G. Breyer's 167 acre vacation homestead in Plainfield and turn it into a park. In Weare, a developer proposed to have the town turn Justice David Souter's home into the "Lost Liberty Hotel."
A poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal in July 2005 regarding Supreme Court issues revealed that Americans cared more about private property rights than any other issue...including the state right-to-die laws and parental notification for abortions. A number of Internet surveys by CNN, MSNBC, the Christian Science Monitor, and other major news organizations showed that more than 90 percent of those polled opposed the government seizure of private property to turn it over to developers.
Congress, of course, jumped on the bandwagon. A week after the decision, far-left California Democrat Representative Maxine Waters joined far-right Texas Republican Representative Tom Delay in supporting a temporary appropriations amendment which barred federal Community Block Grant funds for any city that did not prohibit eminent domain seizures for private development. A similar symbolic measure passed in the Senate.
Some states also took immediate action. Alabama and eight other states passed legislation to prohibit government from condemning property in nonblighted areas and transferring it to private developers. Clearly, the Kelo ruling had hit a raw nerve. Despite the widespread fury from conservatives, libertarians, and liberals alike, hundreds of cities throughout the country cheered the ruling and continued their assaults:
• The City of Riviera Beach, Florida, moved one step closer to displacing an estimated 6,000 local residents to build a billion-dollar waterfront yachting and housing complex.
• City officials in Freeport, Texas, began legal proceedings to seize two seafood companies to make way for an $8 million private boating marina.
• In Arnold, Missouri, the city initiated a plan to demolish thirty homes and fifteen small businesses to make way for a Lowe's home improvement store and a strip mall.
• The City of Oakland, California, evicted the owner of a family-run tire shop who refused to make way for a new housing development.
• Legal proceedings commenced against an apartment builder to take 154 acres of vacant land because the Town of Ridgefield, Connecticut, preferred corporate office space.
• City commissioners in Hollywood, Florida, seized a bank parking lot to make way for an exclusive condo tower.
Over the next several months, talk of eminent domain reform continued to sweep the nation. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill by a vote of 378 to 38 to restrict federal funding to cities that utilized eminent domain to benefit private developers. Thirty states passed some form of legislation attempting to counter the Kelo decision. Despite these efforts, by the end of 2006 the U.S. Senate had not even allowed a bill to reach the Senate floor for a vote.
Realistically, any new laws will not be foolproof. Enterprising lawyers will always find loopholes. The already overloaded court system will become even more clogged with thousands of cases. The nation's more activist judges, armed with the Kelo precedent, will chip away at any legislative measures to curb abuse.
Arrogant and corrupt city and county officials...with near limitless legal budgets...will continue to align themselves with well-heeled developers, political cronies, and major corporations to prey on the politically less powerful and disenfranchised, particularly minority communities.
This is not to say that eminent domain cannot be a useful tool for "public use" as stated in the Constitution's Fifth Amendment. Even many of the citizens who have had their properties unfairly seized and handed over to private developers agree with the long-held standard that eminent domain can, and should, be used for building roads, dams, airports, schools, military bases, and other necessary public uses...as long as owners are fairly compensated.Government Pirates
. Copyright © by Don Corace. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
A successful real estate developer and businessman for more than twenty-five years, Don Corace has appeared on Hannity & Colmes, The Neal Boortz Show, and many other media venues and has testified before Congress on property rights issues. He is the author of the novel Offshore, and he lives in Florida with his wife.
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