Op-Eds

Defending Private Property Rights

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Washington, DC, June 23, 2015 | comments

Since our country was founded, private property has served as a cornerstone of our freedoms. The fundamental right to private property, guaranteed by the Constitution, is based on the principle that government should not unreasonably interfere with the use of one’s property.

In the Declaration of Colonial Rights, the First Continental Congress explicitly stated that, “[Americans] are entitled to life, liberty, and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power… a right to dispose of either without their consent.”

When this statement was adopted in 1774, the property rights of American colonists were severely restricted by King George III and the British Parliament. For example, private property was frequently seized by the British military and colonists were required to house British soldiers in their homes. This blatant violation of property rights was a catalyst of the American Revolution and the reason why our Founding Fathers explicitly codified the inherent right to private property in the Constitution.

Today, almost two and a half centuries later, we are still witnessing this type of tyrannical action from “Big Government.” By dictating restrictions on how landowners may utilize their property, “Big Government” violates the inherent right of private property that is constitutionally guaranteed to American citizens.

To find an example, look no further than our own backyard. Governor Andrew Cuomo recently banned certain types of natural gas development throughout New York State, thereby depriving our region of massive potential economic benefits. This policy hurts local farmers and landowners by preventing them from fully realizing the financial benefits of their property.

As a direct result of this ban, our state has missed a great opportunity to revitalize the Southern Tier. Natural gas development would have created an estimated 54,000 jobs in New York State; these sustainable, well-paying jobs would have put struggling families back to work and provided much-needed economic benefits to our local communities.

Unfortunately, this did not happen and we are now suffering the consequences of Governor Cuomo’s misguided policy.

When government deprives property owners the right to profit off their land, it ruins the economic prospects of the entire region. Neil Vitale understands this.

Mr. Vitale is a farmer in Steuben County. It is obvious to him why so many people are leaving New York: “What I’ve seen in our area is farmers going out of business far too often because of burdensome regulations and high unemployment rates,” he told me. “People just can't find work to support themselves, let alone a family. They are leaving in droves."

It is heartbreaking that local families, many of whom have lived in our region for generations, are leaving our state simply because of the restrictions dictated by Albany.

I recently introduced the Defense of Property Rights Act because I care about the rights of landowners and I believe that the constitutional right to private property must be defended. This legislation protects landowners by creating a safeguard against unfair and unreasonable government actions that violate their property rights. This provides citizens with an opportunity to seek redress in federal court when government action significantly impairs the value of their property or unreasonably restricts the use of their property.

As Americans, we must not be complacent when the government infringes on our individual liberties and restricts our constitutional rights; we must ensure that government is kept in check and does not overreach the limitations placed on its power. The Defense of Property Rights Act is a fair solution and necessary step toward achieving that objective.

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