Thursday, June 23, 2005

Supreme Court Rules that Property Can Be Seized for Economic Development

Just when you think it's safe to buy a home, the Supreme Court rips your porch out from under you. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that New London, Connecticut, can seize the homes and businesses owned by seven separate families in order to facilitate the development of waterfront hotels and other people's businesses.

New London claims that the project is designed to revitalize their very depressed local economy. Under the U.S. Constitution, city and state governments can take private property through their "eminent domain powers" in exchange for just compensation, but only when it is for public use. Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote for the court's majority opinion, said that the city's proposed disposition of the property at issue qualified as a "public use" under the Constitution. In his mind, and the mind of five other members of the court, the city's determination that the properties were distressed was good enough.

What a crock. The properties in question weren't considered to be "sufficiently distressed" before they refused to sell to the developers. If you look into the facts of this case, it's insane to think that this is nothing more than a money grab on the part of New London. According to them, it seems, higher tax bases, and subsequently higher city income, is more important than the rights of their citizens to own property and live in their own homes.

Normally "public use" is defined as something that benefits everyone, like a city library or needed power plant. Now it doesn't matter. "Public use" has become a catch phrase for city-wide fund raising as well. Who cares what lower income families think, as long as the city coffers are filled! Bah!

Here's what Justice O'Conner, one of the dissenting votes, had to say:

"Over two centuries ago, just after the Bill of Rights was ratified, Justice Chase wrote:
'An ACT of Legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great first principles of the social compact, cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority . . . . A few instances will suffice to explain what I mean . . . . [A] law that takes property from A. and gives it to B: It is against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with SUCH powers; and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that they have done it.' Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 388 (1798) (emphasis deleted).

"Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded - i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public - in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings 'for public use' is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property - and thereby effectively to delete the words "for public use" from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent."

Me too.

Read the brief for yourself.

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