Thursday, June 23, 2005

Supreme Court Eviscerates Individual Rights

In a shocking 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court has ruled the municipal governments can use eminent domain to seize the property of citizens for "economic development" - i.e. shopping malls, housing developments, etc. The case before the court pitted a handful of residents of a poor a neighborhood in the City of New London, Connecticut, against their city government which wants to raize the neighborhood in favor of projects designed to attract corporations and tourists.

The New London neighborhood that will be swept away includes Victorian-era houses and small businesses that in some instances have been owned by several generations of families. Among the New London residents in the case is a couple in their 80s who have lived in the same home for more than 50 years.

City officials envision a commercial development that would attract tourists to the Thames riverfront, complementing an adjoining Pfizer Corp. research center and a proposed Coast Guard museum.

New London was backed in its appeal by the National League of Cities, which argued that a city's eminent domain power was critical to spurring urban renewal with development projects such Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Kansas City's Kansas Speedway.

Under the ruling, residents still will be entitled to "just compensation" for their homes as provided under the Fifth Amendment. However, Kelo and the other homeowners had refused to move at any price, calling it an unjustified taking of their property.

The concept of eminent domain was originally meant to give government the power to clear private property for "public works" projects like roads, rail lines, sewer systems; its use to clear land for private development represents a dangerous new abuse of government power, one that strips the citizen of his most powerful protection against the power of the state, private property. Naturally, the justices who ruled in favor of New London are the very same liberal justices whose ideal notion of economics is one in which the state controls the economy.

Local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community, justices 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," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.

He was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

Mind you, the neighborhood being seized by New London officials isn't run down, isn't blighted. The city officials simply believe that they could gain more revenue form commercial development.

Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn., filed suit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices.

New London officials countered that the private development plans served a public purpose of boosting economic growth that outweighed the homeowners' property rights, even if the area wasn't blighted.

By that logic, any piece of private property - any home or business - can be confiscated by any level of government at any time if that level of government can propose a more revenue generating project for that site. Since that will almost always be possible. The results? Expect to see wealthier municipalities condemn poor neighborhoods within their borders, replacing them with luxury homes or shopping malls. This ruling would permit a legalised "ethnic cleansing" of minority neighborhoods by town and city governments eager to pave them over with a shopping mall. Big money interests will now have absolute power of private individuals, able to seize their homes or business whenever they can convince (or bribe) local officials to their way of thinking. The once formidable defense of private ownership has been radically diminished.

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.

The lower courts had been divided on the issue, with many allowing a taking only if it eliminates blight.

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

She was joined in her opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, as well as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

This ruling is a disgrace, the result of the quasi-socialist thinking that has pounded into the skulls of young liberals at America's universities for the last eighty years. The result of justices who have no understanding of the principles under which the US was founded. Now, no one is safe.


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