Letter: Halting the Keystone Pipeline is a win for liberty
The policy of eminent domain in this case was taking the rights of the First American tribes and giving use of it to a privately-held company. A privately-owned, foreign-owned company at that.
The executive order issued Jan. 20, 2021 , to withdraw the Keystone XL pipeline was a win for liberty. Granted this was not the intention of the administration. The U.S. government granted a right of way without consulting First American reservations to give the tribes advance notification and a chance to comment in violation of treaties as well as U.S. law. The government granting the right of way through First American's land is the equivalent of eminent domain, the government taking use of a private citizen's (or tribe's) land without their consent. The policy of eminent domain in this case was taking the rights of the First American tribes and giving use of it to a privately-held company. A privately-owned, foreign-owned company at that.
The First Americans are not the only ones affected by this policy, the procedure was recently started against 80 residents in Nebraska, many of them farmers, in order to use the land for the same pipeline.
The ability of the government to take private property is enshrined in the taking's clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” I believe that most Americans would agree, the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to limit government power and reach, and in this case, they limited the government taking for the public use (examples of which are canals or highways). When we start taking private property or the use of private property to give it to another private entity, we enable the government to determine the haves and the have nots.
Here, in Minnesota, we have already seen what happens when the politically powerful are given too much power and they make decisions that determine who can open for business and who must close. In eminent domain, we give those same powerful politicians the ability to not only determine that they can take public property for public use, but they also have the power to determine what is “public use.” The courts for the most part have given legislatures a wide leeway to make these determinations.
When we allow governments to determine that furthering economic development is a justifiable public use, we enter into a very slippery slope. This can result in taking from those who have little to give to those who are already affluent, as governments see them being more able to develop the property.
In 2005, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor put it very clearly in her dissent in the case of Kelo vs. City of New London: “The beneficiaries [of eminent domain] are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”
The revoking of the Keystone XL pipeline was the right call, even if they did not have this in mind. But in order to prevent further erosion of property rights, we need to elect representatives willing to enact legislation to very narrowly define what is public use.
Travis “Bull” Johnson lives in Beltrami, Minn.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.