Thursday, June 23, 2005
Eminent Domain Case
For those of you who do not follow the Supreme Court decisions as closely as I do, Kelo v. New London was handed down today, bringing with it a stinging defeat for all private property owners across the country. The facts of the case, very briefly, are as follows: New London, Connecticut, attempted to exercise its eminent domain power by purchasing, then razing, the homes and businesses of several dozen residents in order to make way for a new health club, office building and hotel. Many of the residents' families had lived in those homes for generations. The eminent domain power of local and state governments allows municipalities to appropriate private property to facilitate construction of public works, utilities, and when an area is "blighted." Some of us crazies think that even that is going too far against the rights of private property owners, but such is the law. What today's ruling does, however, is extend the power of eminent domain miles further down the road towards communal living. The Supreme Court ruled that municipalities may take (take is actually the appropriate constitutional word) private property in order to increase the tax base through private development. Here is an example. Your house is in a really prime real estate location in a city with a diminishing tax base. So, the city takes your house and land, then turns around and sells it to a PRIVATE DEVELOPER so he can build luxury condominiums there, thus increasing the tax base, and benefiting the community. According to the Court, localities are in a better position to determine what will benefit the community. That's right - economic prognostication is now a legitimate tool of eminent domain. I wonder whether the 'town' of Berkeley, California, believes that it is 'economically beneficial' to socialize all property, and allow the government to make any and all decisions concerning development? If so, this decisions seems to allow them the right to take (for 'just compensation,' a term with quite a bit of litigation wiggle room) the private property of everyone within the city limits, as long as they believe it will create jobs and increase tax revenue. As Justice O'Connor points out in her dissent (quite a good piece of writing, too, you should check it out when it gets posted at www.supremecourtus.gov), this decision will hamstring small business owners at the expense of large conglomerates. This is a dark day for the 5th Amendment.
Posted by Ben Widlanski at 11:04 AM