Recent Op-Eds

My Land is NOT Your Land

July 25, 2005

Our Founding Fathers, who fought a war for the principles of self-government, were understandably concerned about overzealous and tyrannical governments. The founders believed that a central component of self-government was the protection of citizens’ property rights.

In colonial days, oppressive monarchs would take land from hard-working and industrious settlers for their own selfish uses. When writing our Constitution, our founders gave special attention to this issue and guaranteed that the rights of future land owners would be protected.

In a recent Supreme Court decision, however, these treasured rights have been put at risk. In a controversial 5–4 decision, the court held that the city of New London, Connecticut could seize 15 homes and give the land to a corporation. As a result of the decision, private property is now at risk of seizure for the benefit of another private party.

In the past, private land could be taken only for an important public use. As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, land can now be seized for “economic development.” Many Americans are concerned that local, state, and federal governments could now seize valuable private property and disregard the rights of homeowners. The Constitution states that “private property” shall not be “taken for public use without just compensation.” Nowhere does the Constitution say that private property can be taken “for private economic development.”

Given my concerns about the recent Supreme Court ruling, I am proud to be a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1313. This legislation would prohibit the government from taking private property, without the owner’s consent, if federal funds were used and if the transfer was for the purposes of economic development rather than public use. Passing this bill would ensure protection for all private land owners against overzealous governments that threaten to take their land away for private use.

This issue is especially important for South Dakotans. Protection of small businesses and property is essential to a state such as ours, which supports thousands of small-scale enterprises. Private land ownership is also critical for our farmers and ranchers, whose basic livelihood is at risk if their property rights are not protected.

The State of South Dakota and local communities should also consider legislation similar to Senate Bill 1313 to ensure the rights of landowners are protected. Legislatures should pass bills that put stricter stipulations on governments that want to seize land. If we do not take any action to pass such legislation, all private land owners will continue to be at risk.

Protection of homes, small business, and other private property rights against government seizure was a critically important issue for our nation’s founders. We must guarantee private property rights and protect our landowners from misguided decisions of the Supreme Court. The recent property seizure case is another reason why our nation must choose Supreme Court justices who will adhere to the basic principles set forth in our Constitution.