Thursday, June 23, 2005

THE UNIMAGINABLE HAPPENED TODAY. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that local governments can permit private developers to demolish private homes and small businesses for their projects, even if the owners object. The Fifth Amendment states that no person can be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." SCOTUS upheld New London, Connecticut's, claim that a new mixed-use corporate complex, which will include a hotel, a health club, offices, retail shopping, and residences, qualifies as public use because it will "increase tax revenues, create jobs and improve the local economy."

A group of homeowners in New London's Fort Trumbull area had fought the city's attempt to impose eminent domain, arguing that their property could be seized only to serve a clear public use such as building roads or schools or to eliminate blight. The homeowners, some of whom had lived in their house for decades, also argued that the public would benefit from the proposed project only if it turned out to be successful, making the "public use" requirement subject to the eventual performance of the private business venture.

It's a breathtaking perversion of the clear meaning of "public use" -- and as straightforward an example as anyone could want of judges "legislating from the bench."

But that is not what I meant by "unimaginable." I was referring to the fact that all the right-wing bloggers I checked -- including Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Malkin -- have condemned the ruling; and that Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were among the dissenting justices. This means that, in this instance, I agree with these four individuals.

Of course, Malkin cannot resist, being the poisonous viper that she is, using this decision to take a slash at supporters of legitimate public use projects:

The real frauds are bleeding-heart liberal poseurs who decry Big Business--except when they're conspiring with them in the name of "community redevelopment" and "blight eradication."

and at opponents of the Patriot Act:

Another keen observation: "While You Were Busy Protesting The Patriot Act...
...the government took your house. I'm sure the residents of New London, Connecticut will be happy to know that while their houses are being demolished, their library records will be safely locked away.

As if the right to be safe from government seizure of private property and the right to be safe from government snooping into people's reading choices were mutually exclusive. As if one right were less important or more trivial than the other. But that's our dear, sweet Little Miss Dimwit for you.

Captain Ed's commentary is a bit more temperate:

Unsurprisingly, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority that they had deferred to legislative action in this case, a position with which Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer agreed. However, the other four justices argued -- correctly, in my opinion -- that eminent domain should not be used to transfer property from one private owner to another. The power of the government should not overrule the private marketplace unless the land goes for a specific public -- i.e., not private -- use. Not surprisingly, the court relied on a 1954 Warren Court decision which broadened the term "public use" to include blighted areas that required public funds for urban renewal.

I don't know how the "blighted" designation applies to this case, though, because the New London neighborhood in question is not blighted. What it is, is a neighborhood that just happens to be sitting in the area that these private wealthy developers want to build on. Even more to the point, it's a working-class neighborhood. When was the last time private developers tried to seize people's homes and businesses in the neighborhoods they live in?

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