Friday, June 24, 2005


The Supreme Court of the United States came on the side of government and private developers in a 5-4 decision Thursday, ruling that government can use it's power of eminent domain to seize private property to make room for private development projects to boost the local economy and increase the tax base.

The decision (.pdf file) came in a case from New London, CT where 15 homeowners were challenging the decision by city officials to force them from their property to make room for a project which will include a hotel, office complexes, and a marina along the Thames River near a new corporate headquarters and research plant for the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. This was a major case in deciding just how far governmental entities can go in using it's eminent domain powers to revitalize areas. Such powers have been used previously, most notably in New York's Times Square and the Inner Harbour area of Baltimore, but in those cases the areas seized were deemed to be blighted, which was not the situation in New London.

The majority: Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy, David Hackett Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer.

The minority: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

Although the Constitution's Fifth Amendment mandates that "just compensation" is paid and the property is converted to a "public use", and although the minority in this case consists of most of the justices who I usually disagree with harshly, I have to say that they are correct here that the majority of the Court went too far. I believe that "public use" means infastructure such as roads, parks, schools, and not to benefit private developers. While Justice Stevens wrote that "Promoting economic development is a...longstanding function of government.", one has to ask now "At what cost?"

This case may have serious consequences here in Florida, as development continues as a fierce pace. This case should scare the Hell out of anyone who lives near an area being considered for a major development, as this gives city and county commissions much wider latitude to say "We're taking your property; here's your move out!" I have to agree with Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, who wrote:

“The specter of condemnation hangs over all property,” she intoned. “Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory.”


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