Remember the Kelo case, about a Connecticut homeowner who fought to keep her house from being moved in the name of eminent domain?
It was one of the most important legal battles fought in recent years related to development and property rights.
Throughout human history, law has evolved around changing ideas about property.
I've written about the Kelo case and many others in a legal textbook which I have taken over and updated and which is now in print. Contracts and the Legal Environment for Engineers & Architects was originally published in 1958 (under the title of Contracts, Specifications and Law for Engineers, by Clarence Dunham and Robert Young,) passed on to Joseph Bockrath in the third edition, and now is being passed on to me in this seventh edition.
This is primarily a textbook, and much of the material is designed to elicit thought and comment by the reader (somewhat like the purpose of a blog.)
Now that time has cooled the passions raised after the Supreme Court's Kelo decision, we can reexamine the implications of this decision.
In Kelo v. City of New London, the local government chose to use its powers of eminent domain to take Susette Kelo’s home so that a private developer could redevelop the area and ultimately increase the tax base for the benefit of all citizens of New London.
The Supreme Court ruled that the local government did have such authority, creating a public outcry by advocates of private property rights.
“The ultimate resolution of the Kelo case, the physical movement of Susette Kelo’s home to a nearby location purchased by the City of New London, may indicate that the real issue in this case was the “reasonableness” of compensation offered rather than the right to reclaim the land “in return for just compensation.”
The issues of Kelo are not limited to takings of real property but may be expanded in a reexamination of the concept of ownership of all property.
"May an individual refuse to sell at any price, or demand an unreasonable price for, his home, the land of which is needed to provide a new highway or expansion of a local airport?
"May such individual refuse to sell or demand an unreasonable price if it is to be used for economic development that will benefit the entire community (and also perhaps the chosen developer)? May an individual purchase a renown work of art and publicly have it destroyed if the art museum of the local community refuses to buy it at a price providing the individual with a windfall profit?
"May a drug company develop a cure for cancer, patent it, and then refuse to manufacture the drug except at an unreasonable price? Should the courts enforce an agreement between an oil company and an engineer who designs a more fuel efficient engine to stop manufacture of the new engine?
"May a doctor, faced with rising costs of insurance and declining revenue from Medicare, choose to retire, or must she keep working as long as she is needed by the public?”
As I said before, the history of property is the history of law.
Land may be viewed as property. Objects may be viewed as property. Expressions of thought may be viewed as property. Even people may be viewed as property, and in many times and many cultures have unfortunately been treated as such.
As society evolves and its concepts of property evolve, so will the law evolve.