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Liberals Against Kelo

Alyssa Katz tries to throw some cold water on the liberal-conservative alliance forged in the wake of the Supreme Court's Kelo decision that eminent domain could be used to sieze property to give to private developers. Both conservative defenders of property rights against government interference, and liberals concerned about government giveaways to corporations have pushed for federal and state level measures to blunt the impact of Kelo. Katz has two arguments as to why liberals should abandon the project:

First is the slippery slope argument. The conservatives pushing anti-Kelo measures have a much more sweeping agenda of property rights protections, aiming to curtail not just siezure but also regulation, such as zoning and environmental laws. As bad as some abuses of eminent domain may be, Katz says, banning them would be the camel's nose under the tent for the conservative property rights movement. She's right that, in their urge to undermine Kelo, liberals shouldn't allow too-broad measures to be slipped through. But I don't think the slope is as slippery as she makes it out to be. And I worry about this kind of politics of spite, where we eschew bipartisanship on the issue at hand because we disagree about what to do down the road.

Second, she offers a version of the heightening the contradictions argument. Armed with a reversal of Kelo, communities can sit back and obstruct development projects. But without such measures, communities would be forced to take a proactive stance and negotiate agreements that let development occur, while securing compensating benefits for those who are displaced. Certainly negotiating win-win development deals is a good thing. But to suggest that Kelo is just the kick in the pants that communities need to get moving is bizarre. With Kelo in place, what incentive does the government have to negotiate? The powerful government-corporate alliance can run roughshod over even the most organized community. But anti-Kelo measures would level the playing field, giving communities the leverage they need to get the government and developers to the table and secure a deal favorable to their interests. Anti-Kelo measures coudl give people the realistic hope of success that's necessary to turn fatalism into activism.


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