They're stealing my Constitution a page at a time

I went to grab my copy of the U.S. Constitution, which I keep handy by my desk, but it wasn't there Thursday morning.

No surprise. It was probably hiding, for fear the Supreme Court or Congress was going to rip another page out of it.

I wouldn't blame it for running for its life. The assault in recent weeks has been fierce.

On Thursday, I found out we have no property rights. Mistakenly believing the government couldn't come along and buy our property and sell it to someone else unless it was for public use, I have been blithely keeping the faith in the Fifth Amendment.

It says, in the last clause, "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Supreme Court justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer decided it was OK for a local government in Connecticut to force residents to sell their homes to the government so it could sell the property to a developer for an office complex.

Stevens' opinion said it's not a matter for the court to overrule the city's economic development plans.

"The city has carefully formulated an economic development that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including - but by no means limited to - new jobs and increased tax revenue," Stevens wrote.

That, in my opinion, is just indefensible. Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the dissent, which included Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," O'Connor wrote. "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

It's a little difficult for me to follow the logic of a Supreme Court in upholding a city's authority to override the Constitution, when it recently stripped states of their rights to set their own laws.

That was the medical marijuana ruling, which said that federal law can override state law. Even if it's legal to grow and smoke marijuana in your state, it's not - because the feds can arrest you and put you in a federal prison.

It's a pretty obvious refutation of the 10th Amendment, which says "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

In that case, it stretched the Commerce Clause - which gives Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce - to somehow cover medical marijuana, even though state laws don't allow people to sell it from state to state.

So in just the last couple of months, we've lost significant portions of the Fifth and 10th Amendments. Can we still save the First Amendment?

The U.S. House has voted to amend the constitution to outlaw flag burning. We'll see if the Senate is able to block this move or not.

Amend the Constitution? In order to deny people an opportunity to make a political statement? That seems to me to be an absolute contradiction of the First Amendment, which says "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech."

Why else would someone burn or desecrate a flag, except to make a political statement?

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., put it rather eloquently: "If the flag needs protection at all, it needs protection from members of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms that flag represents."

Here's the fundamental problem:

I support redevelopment projects and urban renewal. But I can never justify the government forcing someone to sell his or her home to someone else.

I don't like medical marijuana laws, because I think they've been a backhanded way to legalize marijuana. But if the voters of California, Nevada and other states decide to change the laws, which they have, then I don't think the federal government has the authority to override those decisions.

I don't think people should burn the American flag. It hurts me to see such a thing. But if people can be fined or thrown in jail for making a statement of protest against the American government, then that flag has lost much of its meaning for me.

I've been looking all morning, and I still can't find my pocket-size copy of the Constitution. When I do find it, I'll be afraid to open it and see how many more of our rights are missing.

n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevada or 881-1221.


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