One of the things that I think is generally a good thing is getting my assumptions challenged now and then. Well, that’s happened to me this past month with regard to the Highest Court of the Land.
Apparently, the term “liberal” and “conservative” are not as meaningful on the Supreme Court as I thought they were, or mean different things than I thought. In the medical marijuana case that I mentioned on June 7Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion, while Justice Sandra Day Oâ€™Connor, considered a moderate, penned the dissent, supported by the ailing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, part of the conservative wing of the court.
Last week, in the eminent domain case, Justice Stevens, deemed the most liberal on the Court, wrote for the 5-4 majority in favor of the government, while Justice Oâ€™Connor again authored the dissenting opinion, saying that the Court abandoned a basic limitation on government power and, in doing so, “washed out any distinction between private and public use of property.” O’Connor said economic development is not a constitutionally permissible reason to take people’s land.
Further, she wrote: “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.” O’Connor was supported by the conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and again by Rehnquist and Thomas. I canâ€™t remember the last time I agreed with Rehnquist AND Thomas on a non-unanimous decision twice in one month.
The cautious, mixed Ten Commandments ruling this week adhered more to the traditional liberal/conservative split of the Court.
I was disappointed by the marijuana ruling, and generally pleased by the Ten Commandments decision, but I remain deeply troubled by the eminent domain case. It appears that the underlying assumption in the latter case is that government will always work for the benefit of all, rather than just the “connected,” and I’m suspicious enough of government – all government, however well-meaning – that that chance of greed and corruption driving a land grab is very high. I predict that in a couple decades, this ruling will be overturned when some egregious activities are uncovered.
My regrets to the folks of New London, CT, who have vowed to stay in their houses until the bulldozers come.