Thursday, June 23, 2005

Supreme Court Rules Cities Can Seize Private Property for Private Use

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court said it could not stop State and Local Municipalities from seizing privately owned land for use in other private ventures. The plaintiffs in the case had argued that local governments could not condemn and seize property that was not being used for the public (roads, schools, parks, etc). In its opinion, the SC claimed there was no federal protection from local governments seizing land to make way for office parks and shopping malls. The power of local government to do this dispropriately affects lower middle class and poor families. This puts the power in the hands of wealthy land developers and removes any right of "true ownership" from the American people.

While I think this is a horrible decision for individual Americans, the justification for the ruling is a small win for the notion of federalism. The opinion states that it is not for federal courts to decide local zoning issues, but did leave open the door for states to pass laws that would be more restrictive on local governments abuse of power. I foresee this being a big campaign issue in upcoming state and local elections. (Thanks to MOM, here is the link to the opinion)

Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes

By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
17 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where economic growth often is at war with individual property rights.

The 5-4 ruling — assailed by dissenting Justice Sanday Day O'Connor as handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled in America — was a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They had argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.

As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.

Writing for the court, Justice John Paul Stevens said local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community. States are within their rights to pass additional laws restricting condemnations if residents are overly burdened, he said.

"The city has carefully formulated an economic development that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including — but by no means limited to — new jobs and increased tax revenue," Stevens wrote in an opinion joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

"It is not for the courts to oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size of a particular project area," he said.

O'Connor, who has often been a key swing vote at the court, issued a stinging dissent, arguing that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," she wrote. "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."
(Full Story)


MaxedOutMama said...

Before I go off on a rant I will read the decision. I am not surprised at all. Furthermore, I wish O'Connor would be the new Chief Justice. Fat chance of that, huh?

Dingo said...

I like O'Conner. I have sen her speak several times, but she is much too moderate to ever get Bush's backing. My fear is that Scalia will be the next CJ.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

Do write more on the matter- us non laywers would appreciate your take.

It would seem as if neighborhoods in the inner city (read:Black) near downtown are prime targets for 'gentrification.'

Another social time bomb.

Anonymous said...

Not sure this is a win for federalism. And you know I'm big on it. Think the Supremes (well, 5 of them) abrogated their responsibilities on this one. 5th amendment and all... Still, your take is valued by me. Interesting that most of us on the right are upset by this decision while I haven't heard nearly as much outrage on the left.

Chris P/M