TribLIVE

| Opinion/The Review

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Sign code as a weapon

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Letters home ...

Traveling abroad for personal, educational or professional reasons?

Why not share your impressions — and those of residents of foreign countries about the United States — with Trib readers in 150 words?

The world's a big place. Bring it home with Letters Home.

Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

NORFOLK, Va.

A drearily familiar dialectic is on display here: Government is behaving badly in order to silence protests of other bad behavior. It is violating the Constitution's First Amendment, stifling speech about its violation of the Fifth Amendment, as it was properly construed until 2005.

Founded in 1934, Central Radio maintains communication, sonar and camera equipment on vessels at Norfolk Naval Station. The business is located in a building near the waterfront. Company Vice President Kelly Dickinson says, “We can drive five minutes and be on board a ship.”

But Old Dominion University is nearby and covetous. It wants the land on which Central Radio sits and, through ODU's Real Estate Foundation, is well along toward seizing it by inciting the city government to wield the power of eminent domain. Condemnation proceedings against Central Radio have moved to the compensation phase.

Dickinson says the compensation will be insufficient to enable the business to construct a comparable building, let alone buy land for it. ODU is exploiting the judicial evisceration of the Fifth Amendment's takings clause, the history of which is this:

The Constitution's authors said property may be taken for “public” uses, meaning things — roads, bridges, buildings, etc. — directly owned by government and used by the general public. In 1954, however, the Supreme Court expanded the category of “public use” to include the “public purpose” of curing “blight,” a concept of enormous elasticity when wielded by rapacious city governments. In 2005, in the Kelo case, the court held that a city government can seize an unblighted neighborhood for the supposed “public” purpose of turning it over to a private business that would be a richer source of tax revenues for the taking government.

In this appalling decision, the majority serenely said governments could be restrained by public opinion aroused against abuses of eminent domain. Now, however, Norfolk's government is suppressing Central Radio's speech protesting what the city is doing.

In their desperation, the company's executives hung from their building a 375-square-foot banner proclaiming: 50 YEARS ON THIS STREET; 78 YEARS IN NORFOLK; 100 WORKERS; THREATENED BY EMINENT DOMAIN! In the banner's corner is a circle with a red slash through the words “Eminent Domain Abuse.”

Today that circle is all that is visible. The city says the size of the full sign violates Norfolk's sign code.

Norfolk's behavior is unconstitutional because the city's sign code has been capriciously enforced. The sign code is suddenly being more evenhandedly enforced but only because, a city official has admitted, since Central Radio began protesting, “people are watching.”

We have seen this before. A few years ago, a St. Louis man whose property was being seized under Kelo's permission for government theft adorned his building with a sign similar in size and message to Central Radio's. The city government tried to silence him with sign restrictions as flawed and capriciously enforced as Norfolk's.

The St. Louis man trounced the city in his sign dispute, helped by the Institute for Justice, a little platoon of libertarian litigators who roam the country putting leashes on misbehaving governments. Because IJ is representing Central Radio's First Amendment rights, Norfolk may have to content itself with traducing only one rather than two provisions of the Bill of Rights.

George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Police: Escaped Armstrong County inmate armed, dangerous homicide suspect
  2. Pirates bolster bullpen by trading for former closer Soria
  3. Pirates’ Burnett endures another poor start in blowout loss to Reds
  4. Inside the Steelers: Rookie linebacker Chickillo continues to excel
  5. Steelers’ reserve quarterbacks vie to secure spot behind Roethlisberger, Gradkowski
  6. Warrant issued for man accused of killing Brookline woman
  7. Steelers stress improved conditioning in attempt to play past injuries
  8. Emails among Governor Wolf’s aides reveal concern over AG Kane
  9. Heyl: Longtime disc jockey Jimmy Roach to turn dismissal into brighter times
  10. Pirates notebook: Blanton introduced; Worley designated for assignment
  11. Steelers notebook: Tomlin says Latrobe session won’t differ from normal practice