I’ll tell you why the Kelo ruling hits especially close to home this week. The other day, FBI agents raided the Dallas City Hall offices of two city council members, as well as the office of a rich and politically well-connected developer who has built lots of housing in their districts. The FBI is being quiet about what they were looking for, but news reports say it’s part of a federal investigation into bribery and suchlike. Nobody has been charged — yet, anyway — but if the speculation proves out, this stands to be an infuriating example of what businessmen with money can get done when they have corrupt pols in their pocket. I know, I know, this stuff happens every day, all over the place. But the FBI raids on Dallas City Hall have been front page news here all week, and the nefarious potential connection between private and public power and corruption has been on everyone’s mind here in Chinatown, I mean Big D.
I have been reading various blog commentary about Kelo, and I think there’s a huge disconnect between the legal eagles and the politically minded. There has been a lot of commentary about the decision from lawyer types that reads very arcanely to a layman like me. But I can understand Justice Thomas’s point in his dissent:
Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities. Those communities are not only systematically less likely to put their lands to the highest and best social use, but are also the least politically powerful.
Justice Thomas also noted — and I hope this doesn’t get overlooked in the commentary — that 1950s “urban renewal” fell disproportionately upon black families, who had their homes taken from them, and saw their communities destroyed. This is the sort of thing everybody understands. I am certain there will be demagoguery around this decision, but there should also be some solid and necessary political points to be scored off of it as well. I had not realized until I read it in The Corner that the Bush administration didn’t pick a side here, which might make it hard for this White House to make political hay out of this decision. Besides which, this is an issue that will likely excite the base, especially by the time talk radio gets through with it, but it’s going to give the deep-pockets contributors the heebie-jeebies.