Topic: The Media
Guest Column: Rick Brown on News That Doesn't Fit the Narrative
Atlanta, Friday, June 24, 2005 -
Just to follow up on our recent discussion concerning what some folks consider important news in this country, and what others (in this case, apparently, most) don't:
I was initially surprised about what little stir was caused by Thursday's Supreme Court decision on Eminent Domain, but now I think I understand why. The ruling actually fudges the lines between liberal and conservative, and almost all of us interested in that "great divide" (myself prominently so) tend to seek definition, not confusion. As a story, it's hard to tell because it seems to defy our innate sense of up and down - or more to the point, right and left.
I realize some folks to my left barely notice the "progressive" part of me, but I always figured it would be a cold day in hell when I would find myself siding with William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas on anything whatsoever. Thursday was that day.
Thomas, in filing his own dissent, said it best: "The court has erased the Public Use Clause from our Constitution."
In essence, if you get on the wrong side of your local government, they can force you to sell them your house, at just about whatever price they decide, to do with (and the land beneath it) whatever they choose, and there is no court in the land that can stop them.
As someone left-of-center, even if mostly only slightly so, I see the stricter (but in this court case, the minority) interpretation of what the founders meant in the fifth amendment when they said "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation," as the liberal point of view, and am shocked that the liberals on the court would see it otherwise. Having cut my political teeth during the 1960s, I've never bought into the distorted conservative image of those "socialistic" liberals always siding with government thinking it has the right to tap-dance all over the rights of you or me.
Even on the federalism issue, this ruling seems to have it backwards, with the usual states-rights folks arguing that state and local governments should not have the power to trample on individual rights, and with the usual central-government gang saying that, at least in this case, it's okay.
The only real alignment that might have been predicted here is that conservatives - represented in this decision by those mentioned, along with Sandra Day O'Connor - so often seem to equate "property" rights right up there with "personal" rights. Still, what strikes me as odd is that this is usually only a problem when the two rights are in conflict, which in this case, they are not.
First of all, we should note that the first ten amendments (or at least the first nine of them) are called the "Bill of Rights" for a good reason, in that they enumerate things that governments will not be allowed to do to individuals; they were not meant to reaffirm the right of government to do to people whatever the hell it wants to do to them!
This court's ruling is one that favors society's powerful over society's weak. When it comes to eminent domain, governments don't condemn mansions of the well-connected in order to build public housing or highways, they tear down what the powers-that-be consider "blighted" neighborhoods, killing two birds with one stone by getting rid of ugly buildings and the ugly people who live there, and replacing them with a much-needed school or municipal building - or now, with this ruling, a Toyota factory or upscale shopping Mall.
But what happens when, for example, the newly-elected (and, coincidentally, now Christian) city council decides that that Westside neighborhood, where most of the town's homosexuals live and have their bars and hangouts (and, coincidentally, largely voted in the recent election for the "secular humanist" candidates), would better serve the community if it were replaced by a huge church and revival campground that would draw "more respectable" God-fearing citizens from all over the county? You might say that this example is extreme, but there are lots of people in this country who would see nothing wrong with it.
Still, the displaced citizens could always sue, saying it goes over the line, but over what line, and based on what law? They could try to take this all the way to the Supreme Court, but there's nothing in the Constitution that will support their case anymore; the Supreme Court has just ruled that there's nothing wrong with governments crossing over any and all lines they feel like crossing.
In fact, it's hard to imagine what grounds there would be to dispute anyone's land being taken away from them, since any government can counter by saying that "we, and nobody else, have the right to decide what constitutes 'public use' under the Constitution."
Yes, the New York Times technically "led" with this story with its upper-right-hand placement on Friday morning's front page, but only under a one-column headline, without the pizzazz. Then again, it's not been a topic of ongoing discussion, which I think is a shame. Maybe we do need to find a way to make ourselves understand what topics are important enough to take public notice of.
I know saying this makes me sound like one of those old fuddy-duddies who we all used to affectionately mock, but more and more I'm beginning to realize that the country I leave behind when I die will, in about 250 short years of its existence, have already abandoned many of those rights I was brought up to believe were inalienable - a departure which, unless something terrible happens first, I am genetically scheduled to take sometime in the fall of the year 2028, at which point I will reluctantly have to drop out of this discussion group.
I'm sorry to have to bring that up, but I just wanted you to give you plenty of advance notice so you will have time to prepare yourself for that eventuality.
Copyright © 2005 – Rick Brown__
The basic story as reported by Associated Press:
Click on the link for full detail.
Click here for a full text of the ruling.
Excerpts from a long comment from Neal Boortz, who maintains he is a libertarian more than he is a conservative -
Andrew Sullivan makes a comparison to the recent decision on medical marijuana Gonzales v. Raich that goes like this:
But perhaps Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, is onto something. The story doesn't fit the normal right-left narrative the press uses.