Federal Theft of Property Rights

by Paul Craig Roberts

Now that Soviet Communism has fallen of its own weight, Americans are left with the brutal fact that our own government is our worst enemy. this is a disturbing thought, but – – lets face it – – our government is no longer “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Government has its own agenda, which differs fundamentally from the aims of the productive men and women whose every-day work carries this country along.

For example, farmers today find that they cannot clear drainage ditches, farm bottom land, repair levies or put up a fence on their won property without the risk of criminal prosecution. And we can expect the “Greens” to use the Soil Conservation Service to replace private farming with Land Use Planning at the Federal level.

Uncertain law, based on the power of the bureaucracy to spin regulations out of thin air, is inconsistent with farming, which requires long-term planning, and indeed is incompatible with our historic perception of the right of private property.

The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment states that no person “shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The latter phrase is known as the Eminent Domain Clause or the Takings Clause. Constitutional scholars tell us that this clause means exactly what it says and that the Constitution’s Framers intended it that way. Needless to say, the U.S. Supreme Court has not upheld the Takings Clause in the way that it was intended. Other than traditional cases of physical takings under Eminent Domain, Federal, state and local governments have almost unchecked power to grab property from citizens without compensation them for it.

Like the separation of powers, federalism, and other Constitutional doctrines, the Takings Clause was intended as a limitation on government power. Wetlands regulations are “takings.” Moreover, they are takings without any statutory basis. Nothing makes it clearer that the United States is no longer a “nation of laws” than federal wetlands regulations. These “laws” have been created entirely by bureaucrats and courts. All over America, people are finding their use of their property circumvented and themselves in jail because of these regulatory police and their “laws.”

The New Tyranny that we are facing is being inflicted by people who see themselves as riding on the moral high hose. They are doing it for society’s good. Even accidents have been criminalized. Formerly, our legal system rested on the precept that there can be no crime without intent. But the U.S. Justice Department brushed this ancient principle away when it brought a criminal case against Exxon, our largest oil company, for the accidental 1989 Valdez oil spill. To treat accidents as crimes is to transform accidental manslaughter into premeditated murder. It is absolutely certain that Exxon did not run its Valdez oil supertanker aground off the coast of Alaska with the criminal intention of polluting the water and killing migratory birds. Yet the Justice Department’s criminal indictment charged that it did.

Another example: According to a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal, you may be committing a federal crime if you use an overnight shipping service, such as Federal Express. A little-known law requires that for you to use a private carrier to deliver mail, you must pay at least twice the cost of a first-class stamp and your shipment must be considered “urgent.” The Postal Service says that means your shipment must require an “immediate response,” effectively the same business day it’s received. If it doesn’t, you are a law-breaker.

And, last December the Justice Department gave the small city of Aurora, Illinois, a surprise Christmas present – a lawsuit. It so happens that Aurora doesn’t have any police officers in wheelchairs or any firefighters with chronic back problems. So the city was slapped with a lawsuit for discriminating against the disabled. I kid you not! It can happen to you, too. Before it’s all over, farmers may be required to have wheelchair lifts on their tractors and combines.

Common sense is completely gone. The Washington, D.C. rescue service has an employee who is a carrier of Hepatitis B, an infectious disease. The department kept him on, but told him not to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Yes, he filed a discrimination lawsuit, and Federal District Judge Joyce Green ruled that, public health be damned, the worker was covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the D.C. government could not prevent the infected worker from giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Asset forfeitures are also routine. A 70-year-old black grandmother lost her home in Washington, D.C. because the police alleged that one of her 16 grandchildren had drugs in her house. Donald Scott, a millionaire in Malibu, California lost his life after he refused to sell his 200-acre ranch to the Park Service. Federal Drug agents decided to seize his ranch on the suspicion that “drugs might be present” there. Scott was gunned down when the 30-person raiding party broke in his front door.

As the rest of the world advances toward freedom, the United States is stepping back from it. Unaccountable bureaucrats, unaccountable judges and unaccountable legislators are stealing our property rights hand over fist. As we enter an era of increasingly regulated property rights, our competitive position in the world economy can only deteriorate. And, far worse, the quality of life in our country and the freedoms envisaged by the Founders will only diminish.

Editor’s note: Dr. Roberts is a Distinguished Fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington public policy organization. This text is from his recent address to the American Farm Bureau Federation.Reprinted with permission from the AMERICANISM EDUCATIONAL LEAGUE Edward S. Rankin, Executive Director P. O. box 5986, Buena Park, CA 90622 (714) 522-7671

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.