On Sept. 17, 1787, the Constitution Convention meeting in Philadelphia adopted the greatest document on self-governance ever written: the Constitution for the United States of America. For the first time in history, representatives of we the people, created a government empowered by the consent of we, the people, to exercise only those limited powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution.
The government created by this document allowed the people governed by it to achieve prosperity and longevity way beyond the wildest imagination of the 39 men who signed that original document. The key to these accomplishments is “the government created by the document allowed the people …” This magnificent document recognized that people are free as a condition of birth, and that their freedom could only be restricted by laws enacted by representatives chosen by the people. This document provided the opportunity for the people to change their representatives on a regular basis to ensure that government always reflected the will of free people.
Not everyone agreed with the constitutional concept of free individuals with the power to limit the power of government. Woodrow Wilson did all he could do to impose the concept of omnipotent government with the power to grant or deny freedom to individuals. Wilson’s efforts, epitomized by his plan for a League of Nations, failed. Free people fought through a horrible depression, made worse by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s resurrection of Wilson’s dream of omnipotent government. One of the many laws pushed by the Roosevelt administration was the District of Columbia Redevelopment Act of 1945. It authorized a five-member redevelopment agency to take private property and lease or sell it to other private parties.
This authority to take private property for a purpose other than “public use,” as set forth in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, vastly increased the erosion of freedom. Roosevelt appointed eight of the nine members of the Supreme Court who reviewed the case and held in Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954), that:
[T]he acquisition and the assembly of real property and the leasing or sale thereof for redevelopment pursuant to a project area redevelopment plan … is hereby declared to be a public use.
This ruling destroyed private property rights. Redevelopment by private parties is not a public use, even if eight Roosevelt appointees said it was. This horrible decision was upheld in Kelo v. New London in a 5-4 decision. In her dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said:
[A] law that takes property from A. and gives it to B: It is against all reason and justice … economic development takings “for public use” is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property – and thereby effectively to delete the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Since this 1954 decision, the federal government has expanded the envelope of power, taking private property without just compensation by prohibiting owners from using private property the government designates as wetland, as critical habitat, as a historical site or within the view shed of a scenic highway or waterway.
In recent years, government has forgotten that the Constitution limits its power. The Constitution does not authorize the government to require lending institutions to extend loans to NINJAs (no income, no job or assets). Yet, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, and particularly the revisions of the Act promoted by the Clinton administration required banks to make what came to be called “subprime” loans to people who had no means to repay.
These examples of government ignoring the Constitution are the reasons why the nation’s economic progress has slowed in recent years. These examples of government’s abuse of power barely scratch the surface, but the consequences of these violations are all around us. The current economic situation is directly related to the Community Reinvestment Act, and all the subsequent attempts to correct the problems the government created.
The only solution is to return to the Constitution. Learn what it says. Know how your representatives vote on issues. Make sure that your representatives – at every level of government – honor the Constitution.
Attend one of the many Constitution Day celebrations planned around the country during Constitution Week. Utah’s Freedom Conference on Sept. 18 will address directly the constitutional authority of the federal government’s land ownership. Take advantage of Hillsdale College’s free webcasts. Get a copy of “A More Perfect Union,” and view this dramatization of how the Constitution was made with your family.
Every parent should make sure their family knows how the Constitution protects individual freedom. Without this knowledge, government will continue to take individual freedom until there is none.