Friday, March 18, 2005

Don't It Always Seem To Go...

Before we begin: Drilling in the ANWR is now approved, 51-49. Just what we need - something else to encourage us not to concentrate on finding alternative sources of energy.

So while all the media's efforts regarding the Supreme Court seem concentrated on the utterly unimportant Ten Commandments issue, there's a couple of other recently-decided or soon-to-be-decided cases that might actually affect the way we live our lives. To wit:

The least important is a little-noticed case (it was on the back page of the N&O, and didn't make the Post to my knowledge) saying that some intel agents who got screwed by the CIA couldn't bring a suit against them because their work had to remain classified. This is a bit sketchy. It tells me that my right to petition the government for a redress of grievances somehow is subject to "national security" concerns (by which I mean the whim of whoever's in power). The right to sue is one of our basic civil liberties - it prevents us from being exploited by ruthless people (like the CIA). A lawsuit with merit, like the lawsuit in question here, shouldn't be kept out of the courtroom for any reason. Otherwise, the CIA could operate pretty much with impunity, which leads to undeniably bad things. Personally, I think that if the CIA doesn't want something revealed, it shouldn't screw over the people to whom the secrets are entrusted. Either way, Earth to Justices: ever heard of a closed courtroom? That way, your "national security" can be maintained, and justice can still be served.

The CNN article on it is here.

The other one is even scarier, and fortunately it's gotten some media attention (though not much). I call it the Big Yellow Taxi case, since essentially it would give state and city governments power to pave your personal paradise and put up a parking lot. The government of New Haven, CT (I think) proposes to use "eminent domain" power to take land from working-class citizens and give it to private developers to use for a shopping center. The question is whether this constitutes the "public use" for which private property can be taken under the 5th Amendment.

Personally, I'd like to see eminent domain go the way of the dodo, though since it's written in the Constitution I know that's not going to happen. What worries me, though, is that "public use" is being stretched way beyond its borders here. I can understand the need for eminent domain in road-building and the like (though I still think the government should just buy the land like anyone else. Everybody has a price). But for use in private enterprise? Just because the public would shop there doesn't justify it. Basically, a Court decision in favor of New Haven opens the door for this scary scenario: if a developer wants your land, he can use his/her government connections to get it. You don't get to choose whether or not to sell or to negotiate price. Corporate America says jump, you say "how high?"

This is an outrage that needs to be stopped - and unfortunately it's in the one branch of government that doesn't respond well to public outrage. Keep your fingers crossed, folks.

Another thing: Paul Wolfowitz? The World Bank? Sure, he gets to ruin countries financially, but he doesn't get to blow stuff up, so I don't see how he'll fit in...


Jeff said...

Sadly, precedent seems to be against us here; here's FindLaw's analysis of eminent domain.

Mike said...

Yeah, you don't know what you got 'til it's gone...

Such as Alaska, First Amendment rights, and that third part of the "life, liberty, and property" clause.

I can say one thing, knowing several former CIA agents (if I told you which ones, I'd have to kill you): the CIA hasn't always been such bastards to its spies. Your point about the lawsuit is correct, but I'm far more concerned about the agency's actions in the first place. Many of these are men and women who, if they die in the line of duty, don't even get a burial: they get a star in a book and a flat denial. No one who dedicates even a part of their lives to the security of their country should in turn be shat upon by it.

That's another thing that bugs me: if "national security" is such a high priority, why doesn't the CIA just pay the poor guy 27 grand a year? The government can even find 27,000 in its budget. Why are we making a federal case out of this?

Anonymous said...

I'm not a huge fan of Takings/Eminent Domain issues, but not for the reasons you are. Indeed, I think too MANY things are considered "takings" such that the government must pay for it. Thanks to the Supreme Court, a number of environmental regulations are "takings" so that the government must compensate those who are adversely affected by the environmental regs. This is one more incentive for the government not to bother having environmental regulations in the first place.

Eminent domain is in the Constitution as an individual right, not a government power. It guarantees compensation when the government takes property. The government IS buying the property. The issue, then, is who sets the price? The court (eminent domain) or the buyers and sellers? Normally we trust the buyers and sellers to do it....but sometimes the transactions costs are too high.

As far as suing the CIA....God knows it's hard enough to sue the federal government as it is. There needs to be another restriction? Look up the doctrine of sovereign immunity and proceed pulling out your hair at how much the government can shield itself from suit.

- Ben