Property Rights Deserve Oval Office Attention

Two years ago this week, the United States Supreme Court eroded our Fifth Amendment protections in the Kelo v. City of New London case by decreeing that government could seize your home to hand it over to private developers.

This was judicial activism at its worst. The Supreme Court essentially reworded the Constitution, making property rights conditional: a citizen had a right to his property only so long as he put it to use in a way the government deemed of economic value.

As a lifelong conservative, I was offended by such an egregious judicial overreach. As a candidate for President, I believe it is past time for the federal government to step forward in defense of these cherished liberties in a manner our Founding Fathers would be proud of.

The Founding Fathers recognized that property rights were the foundation of a free society. The Virginia Declaration of Rights included property rights among the “inherent rights” of man. James Madison went so far as to define property as including not only a citizen’s possessions, but his opinions, religion, liberty and safety. It is no surprise, then, that the Founding Fathers enshrined the right to private property in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. As the Fifth Amendment guarantees, private property should be taken only for a "public use," such as a school or road, not to build a private office building or garage The owner of that property, even when taken for public use, is entitled to just compensation.

With property rights so prominently on the minds of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Mason, perhaps it is only appropriate that a Virginian speak out on this important issue. Therefore, this week I am unveiling a National Property Rights Initiative. If I am elected president, the protection of Americans’ constitutionally guaranteed right to own property without fear of encroachment will be a major priority of my administration.

We will certainly have our work cut out for us. Kelo is only the most famous injustice. Every day, Americans are forced from their homes via eminent domain abuse, whether it be Kelo style takings for private development, or governments using liberal definitions of “blight” to justify seizing property. Regulatory takings, by which government renders private property effectively useless through regulation, are commonplace at the municipal, state and federal levels. Intellectual property – a variation on the same theme – is constantly endangered by piracy.

Thirty-six states have now enacted various eminent domain reforms. However, it should not fall on the states to enforce our federal constitution because the Supreme Court abdicated that responsibility.

On my watch, the federal government will be a protector – rather than a violator – of property rights.

The most obvious component of my National Property Rights Initiative will be to appoint judges who will strictly interpret the Constitution, rather than making public policy from the bench.

I will appoint a Special Assistant within the Executive Office of the President who will advise me and coordinate federal protection of property rights. I will require the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and other affected cabinet members to issue to me regular reports on the state of property rights in the United States, and the HUD Secretary will coordinate federal protection of property rights.

On my first day in office, I plan to reissue President Reagan’s Executive Order 12630, which ordered the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to “first do no harm” to property rights when promulgating regulations. I will direct the Attorney General to oversee agencies’ adherence to the Executive Order, and will give every American citizen the right of action to enforce the Order before the Courts. Let’s get the federal government working for property rights, for a change.

But far more must be done. As president I will appoint a Presidential Commission on Property Rights, consisting of leaders and experts from the public and private sectors. The Commission will be chaired by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and will craft a policy recommendation with the following goals in mind:

1. To clearly define “public use;"

2. To establish rights of action by which property owners deprived of their rights can seek justice;

3. To reduce incentives for government to violate property rights, particularly for economic development or private use; and

4. To begin a discussion of the relationship between intellectual and physical property rights and explore policies that acknowledge the two as a common theme.

I plan to spend a lot of time talking about my National Property Rights Initiative on the campaign trail. But regardless of what happens in the 2008 election, I ask all Americans to join me in standing up for one of our most precious and fundamental liberties. Our Founding Fathers would expect nothing less of us.


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