Eminent Domain in the Medical Center

This was originally posted on Live Oaks on April 22, 2009. Comments have not been migrated.

I previously wrote about the use of eminent domain by the Texas Medical Center to seize land for an expansion. Now, the Texas legislature is considering a bill that will strip Houston’s largest employer of most of its eminent domain powers. While this is certainly a good step, several local politicians are using HB 3709 to engage in political grandstanding.

Council member Anne Clutterbuck supports the measure because it will “protect” the nearby neighborhoods. Clutterbuck also used the “protection” argument in opposing the Ashby High Rise. Apparently, “protecting” neighborhoods is more important to Clutterbuck than protecting property rights.

Clutterbuck considers it wrong for the Medical Center to condemn homes, but it is not wrong for the city to erect arbitrary barriers to the construction of Ashby. Eminent domain is wrong because it initiates force and compels individuals to act contrary to their own judgment. The city’s opposition to Ashby does exactly the same thing. Clutterbuck might attempt to justify her hypocrisy by arguing that in both instances she is working to “protect” neighborhoods, and therefore her position is consistent.

Such an argument is based on the premise that groups possess rights separate and distinct from the individuals comprising it. Such an argument holds that the group–the neighborhood–can violate the rights of other property owners.

Clutterbuck is hardly alone in taking such a stand. Annise Parker has also jumped into the fray. In a letter to Representative Dennis Bonnen, Chair of the Committee on Land and Resource Management, Parker wrote:

Allowing the TMC, or any other private venture, special authority to condemn property and override these deed restrictions threatens quality of life, neighborhood stability and individual property rights.

Parker, who also opposes the Ashby High Rise and supports preservation ordinances, obviously does not see such positions as a threat to “individual property rights”. Apparently, it is acceptable for the city to use force against citizens, but unacceptable if a “private venture” does so. The truth is, the initiation of force is always immoral, and the number of individuals supporting its use does not change that fact.

The right to property is the right of use and disposal. It means that the owner can use his property as he chooses, so long as he respects the mutual right of others. Eminent domain, preservation ordinances, and the city’s efforts to stop Ashby all prevent the respective property owners from acting in accordance with their judgment. Yet, neither Parker nor Clutterbuck sees this as a problem. Their mantra is “protect neighborhoods”, and if they have to use a concept like “property rights” then so be it. But to them, “property rights” is a floating concept–they are unable to connect it to concrete situations.

Like most politicians, Parker and Clutterbuck present themselves as principled individuals. In truth, they are devoid of political principles. They deal with each situation on a “case by case” basis and engage in verbal gymnastics to justify their hypocrisy. They will assail the property rights of one individual while feigning support for the property rights of another.

A truly principled politician would not pander to noisy constituents. He would support and protect the rights of all individuals. A truly principled politician would be just like me.

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