American Justice? Maybe.
“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” —Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776)
The roots of such thinking was John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, wherein he argued that political society existed for the sake of protecting property, which is to say, life, liberty, and estate. He also argued that a magistrate’s power must be limited to preserving an individual’s civil interests, which he reiterated as life, “liberty, health, and indolency of body and the passage of outward things.”
So the phrasing of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence relied upon this thinking to proclaim these goals on behalf of British colonists demanding (well, at least a third of them) their independence from the British Crown.
Through the years, Americans conclude that we are, therefore, entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness … happiness being to acquire and maintain property, which was back then, the source of all material wealth.
There ae no absolutes, however. We may be entitled to pursue happiness, but the government has the power to take away our happiness for its own purposes. In law,eminent domain is the power of government (local, state, federal) to seize private property while offering the landowner fair compensation —the word fair meaning “according to the government’s determination.”
This right of eminent domain may be delegated to private corporations when they are able to argue that their use of our property fulfills a public good—which also means “economic development” because it is assumed that land development is good for the public. This may, in fact, be true … but should economic development usurp the inalienable right of citizens to their property?
Bush the Younger said no … he signed an executive order limiting federal seizures to public-use arguments, but his order has no effect on what states and local municipalities may do. A state, country, city, or town may seize private property for their own purposes and pay the unwilling owner of the property a fair market value for that property. Then they may turn around and sell that seized property to a developer, who then makes a fortune on land that he was never entitled to.
Pursuit of happiness? Really? Whose happiness?
This discussion fits nicely into the question of whether a citizen may sue the government. The answer is, no … a citizen may not sue the federal or a state government without that government’s permission. And the government may seize our private property, which is done more often than the average citizen may think.
You own a recreational vehicle and for ten months of the year, you lease it to others. One of these renters is stopped for speeding along Interstate 10. During the stop, police alert to the odor of marijuana. A lawful search is conducted and not only do the police determine the presence of marijuana residue, they also find some quantity of another illegal substance. Sorry Charlie … you just lost your motor home. Federal, state, or local police seized it. It will be auctioned off and you’ll continue making monthly payments. Police can do the same thing to a house you’ve rented out to others.
Is this fair treatment, or does it fly in the face of our inherent right to happiness?
What does the good book tell us about justice? “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” — Deuteronomy 16:20.
Mustang has other great reads over at his two blogs – Thoughts from Afar
with Old West Tales and Fix Bayonets