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Bad News

June 23rd, 2005 - 9:30 am

A horrible, horrible Supreme Court ruling today on eminent domain powers. By a 5-4 vote, SCOTUS allowed localities to take private property away for no better reason than added tax collections:

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 represented a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They 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.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been a key swing vote on many cases before the court, issued a stinging dissent. She argued that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.

This is a dreadful decision. If politicians have the right to take your private property and give it to somebody else just because the other guy claims that he can generate more taxes from it, then property rights have ceased to exist in the US.

The localities are still required to pay “a just price” when one of these takings occurs, but the price even a willing seller would be able to get from his property just took a huge hit. All a developer has to do now is make a lowball offer and threaten to involve a bought-and-paid-for politician to take the property away if the owner doesn’t acquiesce.

Disgraceful.

UPDATE: Imagine this. What if you were in an unrelated fight with your local city council over something. Maybe you had a problem with your kids’ school, or a tax dispute, or you were complaining about a dumb law, or you just spilled a drink on some councilman at the local bar. This ruling would literally give them the power to throw you out of your house and put up a strip mall in its place. And that doesn’t even touch on the prospects of developers making campaign donations–or outright kickbacks–to local politicians.

This ruling is a license for corruption and abuse.

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