USAs forbundshøjesteret afsagde for nogle få uger siden en dom, der med rette vil gå ned i amerikansk retshistorie som en af de–fra et frihedsorienteret synspunkt–mere katastrofale.
Det var i den såkaldte Kelo v. New London-sag, hvor nogle lokale myndigheder i delstaten Connecticut lod sig lokke af en stor koncern, som mente, at den ville kunne skabe nye arbejdspladser ved at få lov til at bygge på nogle jordarealer, der lå praktisk. Problemet var bare, at der allerede boede nogle mennesker der, og de havde ikke lyst til at sælge. Delstaten var på koncernens side, også selv om dennes argumenter med henvisning til "almenvellets bedste" var noget spekulative, og sagen endte i US Supreme Court. Det skete med henvisning til 5. forfatningstillæg, der siger, at "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation", og sågar Connecticuts egen forfatning stipulerer, at "The property of no person shall be taken for public use, without just compensation…." Altså: det kan ske, hvis det går til "public use" (="almenvellet"), men der siges intet steds, at man kan tage fra nogle ejere og give til nogle andre, private ejere, som hellere vil have jorden, men altså ikke ønsker at betale (nok) for den.
I US Supreme Court støttede et snævert flertal 5-4 delstaten–med den aktuelle Sandra Day O'Connor (som i økonomiske spørgsmål generelt har været ganske liberal) i mindretallet, sammen med højesteretspræsident William Rehnquist og dommerne Antonin Scalia og Clarence Thomas. O'Connor skrev i sin dissens, at:
"all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded. … [It will] wash out any distinction between private and public use of property–and thereby effectively to delete the words 'for public use' from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment."
Med dommen har amerikanske delstater altså nu reelt frie hænder til at gennemføre "tvangssalg" af privat ejendom mod ejernes ønske, selvom forbundsforfatningen ellers stipulerer, at det kun kan ske, når det er til offentligt brug–og reelt uden at kunne dokumentere at der vil være en samfundsmæssig gevinst derved.
Det er ikke gået stille af–især ikke i disse uger, hvor fokus netop er flyttet på evt. kommende højesteretsdommeres ideologiske orientering. Den altid fortrinlige John Fund fra Wall Street Journal har i dagens avis en klumme om emnet med den passende overskrift "Property Rights are Civil Rights" og en usædvanlig "twist", der kobler ejendomsrettigheder sammen med borgerrettigheder. Her er et uddrag:
"In 1954 the Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. But that same year it also ruled in Berman v. Parker that government's power of eminent domain could be used to seize property in order to tear down "blighted" areas.
It soon became clear that too often urban renewal really meant "Negro removal," as cities increasingly razed stable neighborhoods to benefit powerful interests. That helps explain why 50 years later so many minority groups are furious at the Supreme Court's decision last month to build on the Berman precedent and give government a green light to take private property that isn't "blighted" if it can be justified in the name of economic development. …
Many Democrats who used to scoff at conservative fears about activist judges are now joining their barricades when it comes to eminent domain. "In a way this ruling is about civil rights because it interferes with your right to own and keep your property," says Wilhelmina Leigh, a research analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington. "It means you have to hope and trust in the goodness of other human beings that if you buy real estate that you will be allowed to keep it." Few appear to be willing to trust government on this issue, which is why the Kelo decision has touched off such a populist reaction against it.
Martin Luther King III, a former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says that "eminent domain should only be used for true public projects, not to take from one private owner to give to another wealthier private owner." In 2001 he joined with the free-market Institute for Justice (which represented the Kelo plaintiffs) to stop the state of Mississippi from uprooting homeowners to make room for a Nissan truck factory. After he compared the state's actions to "a giant stepping on a grasshopper," public opposition to the taking mounted. The state finally announced that Nissan had come up with a way to redesign its facility so that the homeowners wouldn't have to leave.
… Before the 1954 Berman decision, with some exceptions, private property could be taken through eminent domain only for public uses. In Berman, however, the court declared the words "public use" to mean "public purpose," as defined by local officials. Soon the definition of "blight" became highly elastic, as governments began condemning working- and middle-class neighborhoods simply because they were desired by private interests. As Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his dissent in Kelo: "Of all the families displaced by urban renewal from 1949 through 1963, 63 percent of those whose race was known were nonwhite, and of these families, 56 percent of nonwhites and 38 percent of whites had incomes low enough to qualify for public housing, which, however, was seldom available to them."
The definition of a "blighted" area eventually became so expansive that it 1981 the Michigan Supreme Court allowed the city of Detroit to raze a stable neighborhood called Poletown to make way for a General Motors plant. The Michigan Supreme Court finally repudiated that decision last year, in a ruling that noted that property rights would no longer exist in America if cities could simply take property when they found a use that yielded higher taxes or other benefits.
By contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court has now decided not to overturn its Berman precedent and indeed has expanded the deference it gives to local governments to determine what "public use" means. But states and localities are free to take their own steps to preserve private property rights. Nine states–Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, South Carolina and Washington–already forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development except in narrow circumstances. The Institute for Justice has launched a $3 million "Hands Off My Home" campaign to convince other states to join them. In Georgia, Gov. Sonny Perdue is demanding a full review of eminent domain. The Texas Legislature has already debated a constitutional amendment that would ban the use of eminent domain solely for economic purposes. No one argues that struggling cities or states don't have a right to improve themselves through redevelopment. But the new civil-rights coalition forming in reaction to the Kelo decision says that need can't justify land seizures from which politically connected players stand to gain at the expense of individual civil rights. If the half-century since Brown v. Board of Education has taught us anything, it is that some rights are and must remain nonnegotiable."
En af de centrale dommer i flertallet i Kelo v. New London var højesteretsdommer David H. Souter–som blev udnævnt af præsident George H.W. Bush i formodning om, at han var "konservativ" (hvilket ha
n hurtigt viste sig ikke a
t være). Souter kan nu gå hen og komme til at føle dommens konsekvenser på egen krop–eller rettere: egen ejendom. En forretningsmand, Logan Darrow Clements, har kontaktet de lokale myndigheder i Weare, New Hampshire, og foreslået, at disse overtager adressen 34 Cilley Hill Road–hvor investoren så tilgengæld gerne vil bygge et hotel.
Det er så ganske vist Souters private hjem, men et princip er vel et princip … "The justification for such an eminent domain action is that our hotel will better serve the public interest as it will bring in economic development and higher tax revenue to Weare," siger Clements. Når det lige skal ligge dér, er det fordi grunden er unik, "being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans."
Hotellet skal iøvrigt hedde "The Lost Liberty Hotel", vil have en "Just Desserts Café", samt et offentligt tilgængeligt museum "featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America." Hotelværelsernes natbordsskuffer vil ikke indeholde den sædvanlige Bibel, men derimod et gratis eksemplar Ayn Rands roman Atlas Shrugged.
Det giver jo en vis inspiration for, hvad man kunne foreslå af danske lokalplaner …