Wednesday, February 07, 2018

From the Archives: Del. Rob Bell explains why property rights belong in the Va. Constitution

Del. Rob Bell explains why property rights belong in the Va. Constitution
February 7, 2011 10:02 AM MST

With a vote of 16 yeas to 2 nays, a proposed constitutional amendment introduced by Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth) passed the House Privileges and Elections Committee on Friday, February 4.

Rob Bell property rights Virginia constitution
Under the proposal, statutory language passed in 2007 that protects property owners against eminent domain actions by overreaching state or local government would be inserted into the Bill of Rights of the Virginia Constitution.

Joannou’s proposed amendment was identical to another submitted by Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle County), who stood by Joannou’s side at the committee meeting and offered his strong support, indicating that he will become a co-patron of the resolution, styled HJ 693.

After the committee’s vote, Delegate Bell spoke with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about the importance of property rights, the process this resolution must undergo, and the value of having bipartisan support for the constitutional amendment.

‘Guardian of every other right’
Bell cited Arthur Lee, a Virginia representative to the Continental Congress and diplomat during the Revolutionary War, who said that “The Right of property is the guardian of every other Right, and to deprive the people of this, is in fact to deprive them of their Liberty.”

In other words, he said, protection of private property “undergirds all the other rights. Without it you don’t have any.”

The reason Bell and Joannou have proposed enshrining the 2007 statute into the state constitution is that a simple law passed by the General Assembly can be eroded or easily repealed.

“It’s like all constitutional protections,” said Bell. “It’s not to protect the majority, it’s to protect the minority. Specifically, it’s to protect a Susette Kelo, who was doing nothing wrong and who didn’t have a blighted house,” but the city of New London said it wanted to take her house and give it to a private entity.

Result of the Kelo decision
“That’s what the Fifth Amendment’s supposed to protect and it doesn’t any longer,” Bell explained, at least since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo ruling.

Bell, a lawyer, went on to explain that “the Kelo decision leaves to the states the ability to impose protections through statute or constitution.”

Virginia passed a statute in 2007, he noted, “and our statute is good. It’s just that it’s always reversible or changeable or a statute can be nibbled at. Putting it in the constitution will stop that.”

Mainstream, not extreme
Bell said that his support of individual property rights is not, as some opponents have alleged, an extremist view. Instead, he said, “I have no doubt that this is the mainstream position.”

Rob Bell PVCC Albemarle County Virginia
He pointed out that, when citizens are faced with an eminent domain claim against their property, “on the individual project level, there will always be a reason why the legislature, supervisors, [or] government will say, ‘We agree with [the principle] generally, but on this one we’ve got an especially good reason not to comply with the property rights protections of the individual.’

“Unfortunately, if you do that every time, obviously you’ve nibbled away until there’s nothing left.”

Now that the House P&E Committee has approved the resolution, it goes to the full House of Delegates for consideration. Passage by the House is expected – similar resolutions have passed in 2007 and 2009 – and then it goes to the state Senate, which Bell describes as having been “stumbling block” in past years.

If the Senate passes HJ 693, however, both chambers must pass an identical resolution next year, and then it will be presented to the voters as a referendum in the November 2012 election. Should a majority of voters approve it, the language will become part of Section 11 of the Virginia Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on February 7, 2011. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

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