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Opinion Private Property Rights on back burner

Over the next few days, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature will proudly proclaim how they are protecting the sanctity of marriage.

Their Democratic counterparts will just as loudly shout about how Republican leaders are damaging the state’s ability to recruit jobs.

Another round of divisive legislative debate is in store as GOP legislators attempt to insert language into the state constitution to ensure that same-sex marriages never take place in this state.

It comes as no surprise. Other Southern states, once Republicans gained control of their legislatures, have seen similar amendments pass.

And not so long ago, some Democrats in North Carolina used the same issue to their political advantage when banning gay marriage by simple statute.

What is surprising is that legislative leaders — while more than willing to cavort around the minefield of a gay marriage ban — have inexplicably decided to drop an issue that seems far more fundamental to the Republican philosophy and cause.

In this one-week legislative session to amend the state constitution, apparently no proposed amendments will be considered to protect the private property rights of North Carolinians.

Back in May, it was a different story. The House voted to put a constitutional amendment before voters designed to prevent state or local government from condemning private property only to hand it to another private property owner for redevelopment.

That vote, by the way, was 98-18.

Now legislative leaders say they aren’t likely to take up the legislation because they want to make sure that the language is correct, that courts don’t misinterpret it.

Really? That's the best excuse that they could come up with?

This issue has been around since 2005. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution didn't prevent the condemnation of private property for economic development purposes.

The ruling came about when property owners in New London, Connecticut, challenged that city’s use of eminent domain to try to redevelop their property into a high-end residential and retail “urban village.”

The decision prompted several other states to put private property protections into their state constitutions.

Since 2006, bills had been filed here to give North Carolina property owners similar constitutional protections. Despite bipartisan support, Democratic legislative leaders held up the legislation.

With Republicans now in charge, a constitutional change to prevent the kind of shenanigans pulled by local government officials in New London, Connecticut, would seem to be a slam dunk.

It’s needed because federal courts have strayed from traditional notions of what is a “public use,” things like schools, roads and power line easements. That phrase, found in the 5th Amendment, has morphed into any government condemnation that provides a “public benefit,” which can mean anything from jobs to additional tax revenues.

No one should believe, six years later, that these issues aren’t understood, that delineating true public uses from ambiguous public benefits requires some magical legalese that can only be conjured up with months more of study.


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