Thursday, June 23, 2005


Court voids private property rights

Transforming the concept of "public use" to mean "public greed"

The US Supreme Court ruled cities may sieze the private property of one person for the purpose of giving it to someone else. The arrogance of this ruling is breathtaking:
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
No kidding. I always thought that it is for the courts to protect the rights of individual citizens from abuses of government power. I guess I was wrong.

In dissent, Justice O'Connor got it right:
Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power. Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded–i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public–in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings “for public use” is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property–and thereby effectively to delete the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly I respectfully dissent.
UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge has an excellent column on the matter, which concludes:
One final thought: Reagan appointee Kennedy and Bush 41 appointee Souter voted with the majority, proving once again just how essential it is that Bush 43 pick somebody reliably -- and permanently -- conservative when there's an opening.


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