Political Smash-and-Grab Bandits

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After the state of Maryland raised its cigarette tax by $1 per pack several years ago there was a wave of "smash-and-grab" break-ins at convenience stores. Thieves would throw a cinder block through the front window in the middle of the night, grab all the cigarettes they could, then disappear. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley (now Governor O’Malley) must have been envious of the success of the smash-and-grab thieves, for he embarked on a similar enterprise of his own, called "quick take."

So-called "quick take" is yet another perversion of the law of eminent domain whereby politicians can take immediate possession of a property without a hearing before a judge. Then when they find the time, they offer the owners an arbitrary amount for their property. The apparent purpose of the quick, smash-and-grab nature of this brand of political thievery is to deter property owners from mounting an adequate legal defense.

It’s even worse than the kind of taking that was involved in the now-infamous Kelo Supreme Court decision. In that decision our black-robed deities informed us that private property could be stolen (oops, I mean, "taken") not for a "public purpose," as the U.S. Constitution requires, but simply to give or sell the property on the cheap to political supporters of the powers that be (real estate developers, chain store owners, etc.). With "quick take" property theft (oops again, I mean, "eminent domain proceedings"), governments do not even announce any purpose for the theft; they simply declare that they may decide how to make use of it sometime in the future. Property owners in Baltimore are given only ten days to challenge the theft of their property in this way.

But there’s good news. On February 8 the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled against the thieving O’Malley administration in a case involving a local bar called "The Magnet." The court condemned the O’Malley administration for having "run roughshod over the owners of private property." The city government was so arrogant that it refused to even answer the court’s questions regarding how they intended to use the property, and were harshly reprimanded for it by Judge Dale R. Cathell.

This ruling is bound to have national implications, for the Baltimore city government is not the only gang of "quick take" property bandits. Local governments throughout the nation are trying their hands at it, like so many apprentice mobsters. Unfortunately, the lesson these thieves will likely learn from the Maryland case is that they simply have to dream up some kind of use for the property before they steal it, whether that turns out to be the eventual use or not. The city of Baltimore responded to the Appeals Court ruling by arrogantly insisting that it intends to continue its quick-take, thieving ways.

Of course, the primary purpose of all such property theft by local politicians is so that they can fill their campaign coffers with money donated by real estate developers who are then able to purchase land much cheaper (from their local government pals) than they could if they had to offer fair-market prices for it to the property owners. It is very likely that such ill-gotten monies were instrumental in catapulting Martin O’Malley into the governor’s mansion last November.

Local government all across America consists of thousands of conniving political prima donnas who dream of following in the political footsteps of a Martin O’Malley by legally plundering mostly lower-income constituents through this perversion of the law of eminent domain. They care not a whit that they are destroying the glue that holds our economy and indeed, our civilization together — private property. (You never see "quick takes" in neighborhoods with million-dollar homes; the owners of such homes can afford very effective lawyers). Any politician who engages in such arrogant acts of thievery must not only be challenged in court, as the O’Malley administration was, but should be thrown out of office immediately wherever recall elections are possible.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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