Supreme Court Expansion of eminent domain–Sandra Day O’Connor smelled the rat
Sat, 2 Jul 2005
In a 5 to 4 decision, Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, as well as Reagan appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy, voted to expand the government’s right to seize property from citizens by declaring that such seizure was legal –not just communal improvement purposes, such as building roads, bridges, or court houses, but to facilitate private commercial development. What could the 5 to 4 majority “liberal” justices be thinking?
In what may be her last dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: the decision bowed to the rich and powerful at the expense of middle-class Americans.
Indeed, the case involved the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer: “In 1998, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. agreed to build a $270 million global research facility next to the area in dispute. Two years later, the New London City Council sought to accommodate Pfizer’s investment and adopted a redevelopment plan to transform 90 acres of Fort Trumball.
The city and state would contribute millions of dollars. Eminent domain power was transferred to the New London Development Corp., a private, nonprofit group of citizens, business owners and community leaders.”
Not even considered by the Supreme Court justices is the fact that Pfizer is a company that had recently pled guilty to criminal drug marketing practices for which it was fined $430 million. See: https://ahrp.org/infomail/04/05/16.php
Why should law abiding citizens be under the threat of losing their homes for corporate expansion–even when those coporations have pled guilty to criminal activities??
Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes
By HOPE YEN
The Associated Press
Thursday, June 23, 2005; 11:07 PM
WASHINGTON — Cities may bulldoze people’s homes to make way for shopping malls or other private development, a divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday, giving local governments broad power to seize private property to generate tax revenue.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the decision bowed to the rich and powerful at the expense of middle-class Americans.
The 5-4 decision means that homeowners will have more limited rights. Still, legal experts said they didn’t expect a rush to claim homes.
“The message of the case to cities is yes, you can use eminent domain, but you better be careful and conduct hearings,” said Thomas Merrill, a Columbia law professor specializing in property rights.
The closely watched case involving New London, Conn., homeowners was one of six decisions issued Thursday as the court neared the end of its term. The justices are scheduled to release their final six rulings, including one on the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays on public property, on Monday.
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said New London could pursue private development under the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property if the land is for public use, since the project the city has in mind promises to bring more jobs and revenue.
“Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government,” Stevens wrote, adding that local officials are better positioned than federal judges to decide what’s best for a community.
He was joined in his opinion by other members of the court’s liberal wing _ David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, as well as Reagan appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy, in noting that states are free to pass additional protections if they see fit.
The four-member liberal bloc typically has favored greater deference to cities, which historically have used the takings power for urban renewal projects.
At least eight states _ Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington _ forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight. Other states either expressly allow a taking for private economic purposes or have not spoken clearly to the question.
In dissent, O’Connor criticized the majority for abandoning the conservative principle of individual property rights and handing “disproportionate influence and power” to the well-heeled.
“The specter of condemnation hangs over all property,” O’Connor wrote. “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.”
Connecticut resident Susette Kelo and others in the lawsuit pledged to continue their fight. Nationwide, more than 10,000 properties were threatened or condemned in recent years, according to the Institute for Justice, a Washington public interest law firm representing the New London homeowners.
“It’s a little shocking to believe you can lose your home in this country,” said resident Bill Von Winkle, who said he would keep fighting the bulldozers in his working-class neighborhood. “I won’t be going anywhere. Not my house. This is definitely not the last word.”
But Connecticut state Rep. Ernest Hewett, who as a city council member approved the development, said, “I am charged with doing what’s best for the 26,000 people that live in New London. That to me was enacting the eminent domain process designed to revitalize a city … with nowhere to go.”
New London once was a center for the whaling industry and later became a manufacturing hub. More recently the city has suffered the kind of economic woes afflicting urban areas across the country, with losses of residents and jobs.
City officials envision a commercial development including a riverfront hotel, health club and offices 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 case is Kelo et al v. City of New London, 04-108.
Associated Press writers Matt Apuzzo in New London, Conn. and Susan Haigh in Hartford, Conn. contributed to this report.
On the Net: The ruling in Kelo v. New London is available at: http://wid.ap.org/documents/scotus/050623kelo.pdf
© 2005 The Associated Press
Land war goes before Supreme Court
Homeowners ask justices to block city’s use of eminent domain
From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A fight by homeowners to save their New London, Connecticut, neighborhood from city officials and private developers — an important property rights case with an unusual twist — will reach the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
At issue is whether governments can forcibly seize homes and businesses, for private economic development. Under a practice known as eminent domain, a person’s property may be condemned and the land converted for a greater “public use.” It has traditionally been employed to eliminate slums, or to build highways, schools or other public works.
The New London case tests the muscle of local and state governments to raise what they see as much-needed revenue, which they argue serves a greater “public purpose.” Legal analysts said they see the case as having major implications nationwide in property rights and redevelopment issues.
Eminent domain is a practice indirectly sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment’s protection against unwarranted government interference adds a caveat: “Nor shall property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
A recent study by the property rights group Institute for Justice, which is representing the New London homeowners in court, found about 10,000 cases from 1998 to 2002 of local governments in 41 states using or threatening to use eminent domain to transfer home and properties from one private owner to another. Courts in at least six states have upheld the practice.
Such battles have long been a staple of U.S. westward expansion. In the 19th century, farmers, railroads, miners and ranchers competed for the opportunity to exploit rural resources.
Today, the disputes have become more urban-based, focusing on stadiums, office parks and shopping centers. Courts and legislatures around the country have had widely differing standards on when eminent domain can be used.
City, homeowners square off
In the New London case, city officials there argue that eminent domain also should apply to “economic development” even if done privately since it would increase tax revenue and improve the local economy.
Susette Kelo and six other homeowners have said the move is more about enriching well-connected developers.
“It’s obvious they don’t want us here, and they’ve done everything in their power to make us leave,” Kelo said. “They are simply taking our property from us private owners and giving it to another private owner to develop.”
Kelo said she and her husband, Tim, bought their two-bedroom pink Victorian in the city’s Fort Trumball waterfront neighborhood in 1997 for $50,000. The area is in a working-class section of New London, overlooking the Thames River and Long Island Sound.
“It was like I’d been here all my life. It was just a warm and inviting feeling,” she said.
But city officials disagree with that label.
“New London has been and is classified by the state of Connecticut as a distressed municipality,” City Attorney Thomas Londregan said. “When we lost the naval base, we lost about 18,000 jobs.”
Londregan said that while the city has never claimed the Fort Trumball neighborhood is blighted, the area has suffered economically. It has been zoned since 1929 as industrial despite the presence of existing private homes.
“This area had a junkyard, which had to be cleaned up at great expense,” Londregan said. “They had oil tanks, commercial big storage tanks. There is a railroad yard down there.”
Pfizer plant spurred city action
In 1998, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. agreed to build a $270 million global research facility next to the area in dispute. Two years later, the New London City Council sought to accommodate Pfizer’s investment and adopted a redevelopment plan to transform 90 acres of Fort Trumball.
The city and state would contribute millions of dollars. Eminent domain power was transferred to the New London Development Corp., a private, nonprofit group of citizens, business owners and community leaders.
It wants to build a conference center, hotel complex, offices, condominiums, and eventually, an aquarium in New London, which is about 125 miles east of New York City.
The day before Thanksgiving 2000, Kelo said, a notice was posted on her East Street home, informing her and her husband that they had four months to move out or police would remove them and their belongings.
“I really didn’t want to sell my property so I wasn’t interested at all in the offer,” she said. “And they simply told me if you’re not going to sell, we’re going to take your property by eminent domain.”
Most of Kelo’s neighbors have moved on, leaving large parts of Fort Trumball bulldozed amid rubble. About 80 homes and businesses are gone, leaving only seven property owners and 15 parcels remaining.
The city government said it offered Kelo and her neighbors a fair price for their properties.
The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with New London, ruling that promoting economic development outweighed private property rights. Homeowners argued that since their neighborhood is neither a slum nor crime-ridden, it does not meet legal standards for application of eminent domain.
The case is Kelo v. City of New London (04-0108). A ruling is expected by June.
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