Author: Luke A. Wake
Recently I gave a speech to the Calaveras County Taxpayers Association. They are engaged in a battle to protect their property rights in their county's General Plan update process. My advice to them: You want to win this in the political arena, because it's a real uphill battle to vindicate property rights in court these days.
Few Americans realize that "property rights" are usually treated as mere privileges, subject to abridgment by the will of the majority through the democratic process. As Madison argued, the democratic process can be dangerous to the natural rights of individuals because factions will inevitably seek to gain benefits for themselves, to the detriment of others. The founders sought to address that problem by creating a system of government that was bound to respect the rights of individuals; but, these constitutional protections were thrown out the window during the progressive era. Liberal judges expanded the power of government to the point that most government actions will now be upheld, so long as there is some conceivable rationale supporting the decision. This means that our rights and our liberties are no longer guaranteed. We retain only those rights and liberties that the democratic process allows us to enjoy and all the rest are usurped. This is why Fredric Bastiat referred to government as "legalized robbery."
The founders also sought to separate the powers of government in hopes that the political process would operate, to some extent, to protect the rights of individuals by preventing any one faction from gaining too much power. Unfortunately factions (i.e. special interest groups) have nonetheless found ways to influence decision makers in the political process; all too often our democratic process amounts to nothing more than an argument between two wolves and a sheep over what to have for dinner. Sadly, now that many of our constitutional protections have been chipped away, we stand with few protections against the volatile winds of political expediency, which hold the reins of the powerful hand of government.
But, sometimes – if we are lucky – we might just win the fight in the political arena. Take for example the case of Brian Rainville, a dairy farmer in Vermont. The Department of Homeland Security wanted to take five acres of his farm to expand a border-crossing station along the U.S.-Canadian border, but Rainville protested the taking of his property and succeeded in bringing national attention to his situation. After his story appeared on Fox News the public began speaking up against the plan. The issue came to the attention to Senator Patrick Leahy, who questioned Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about the plan, urging the agency to reconsider. Finnally, in light of mounting opposition, Homeland Security has decided not to go forward with its plan to take Rainville's farm. He was lucky - the eye of the media highlighted his plight and the political winds shifted to spare his rights. But, his rights were preserved by mere happenstance.