Publisher's note: This post, by Ray Nothstine, was originally published in Civitas's online edition.
"A people averse to the institution of private property is without the first element of freedom."
— Lord Acton
The latest Civitas Poll
pried into Republican primary voters and their strong support for strengthening property rights in North Carolina. There is broad support for a state constitutional amendment to protect the citizenry from potential eminent domain abuse:
When it comes to eminent domain, state constitutional amendments surged in the wake of the controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London
U.S. Supreme Court case, wherein a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled in favor of allowing the city to seize private property to be sold to private developers. In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote: "Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not." There is an excellent film chronicling the abuses that led to the infamous court case titled "Little Pink House
Unfortunately, a state constitutional amendment to protect North Carolinians from an unjust seizure of property is non-existent. Greater protection is needed because the state constitution
is too vague when it comes to protection from the government, nor is there any mention of just compensation.
House Bill 3
, passed the House 94-21 but has stalled in the state Senate. It's unclear why recent legislation to protect private property in the state continues to flounder in the upper chamber. And if American courts can't ultimately be trusted to protect private property rights, legislators have a duty to act. Legislation was passed in 2006 to strengthen the prevention of seizure in North Carolina for private purposes, but still allows a loophole for "blighted land," which could obviously carry varying definitions.
A 2019 Carolina Journal
- The N.C. Supreme Court clarified circumstances in which property owners can be compensated for their loss with its decision in the 2016 case Kirby v. NCDOT. It said people with properties identified for road construction under the state's Map Act, who could not fully use their land while the state took years to buy it, had the right to payment.
- Citing the writings of John Locke, the court noted protecting private property from government seizure is a time-honored tradition. It also noted the state doesn't have a constitutional provision requiring just compensation for eminent domain.
The article additionally notes that North Carolina receives a "C-" grade from the Castle Coalition
, an eminent domain watchdog organization. And as we have learned over and over again in North Carolina, relying on the courts to protect the citizenry is too often a roll of the dice.
Property rights are essential because it's another reminder that the government is not the master, but the servant of the people. Citizens must enjoy the equal fruits of their labor. The middle class is the biggest population segment of our state and nation. They have much of their capital and wealth invested in their homes. They deserve protection from potential government plunder and abuse. "The defense of private property is the standard by which 'every provision' of law, past and present, shall be judged,"
declared Thomas Jefferson.