Tuesday, July 05, 2005

American Cities Move To Take Property From Citizens

As most of us know, several weeks ago the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Kelo vs. New London. The nine judges of our highest court decided (in violation of the Fifth Admendment) that from here on cities are allowed to force residents to sell their property so that business can put it to use for private enterprise, as long as the result is increased tax revenue.

Dave Budge has a partial rundown, from the Institute for Justice, of all the cities around the country who have been inspired by the Kelo Decision to start procedures to take land away from residents:

Freeport, Texas
Hours after the Kelo decision, officials in Freeport began legal filings to seize some waterfront businesses (two seafood companies) to make way for others (an $8 million private boat marina), according to the Houston Chronicle.

Lake Zurich, Ill.
Five property owners facing condemnation for private development had asked Lake Zurich officials to hold off until the Kelo decision. The Chicago Tribune reports that City officials are now moving to condemn.

Boston, Mass.
Two days after the Kelo decision, Boston City Council President Michael Flaherty called on the mayor of Boston to seize South Boston waterfront property from unwilling sellers for a private development project. “Eminent domain is one tool that the city can use,” Flaherty told the Boston Globe.

The list goes on.

The Kelo vs. City of New London case also concerned waterfront property. It looks like we all have need to worry if our home sits on land which is considered desirable.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker, writing in the Weekly Standard, makes a case for why the Kelo decision is not a violation of the Fifth Admendment:

Fort Trumble (the property at issue) is such a typical mixed-use municipal development project that it is a little hard to understand the significance that commentators have given to the Court's decision. The issue before the Court was phrased very broadly by the majority: "We granted certiorari to determine whether a city's decision to take property for the purpose of economic development satisfies the 'public use' requirement of the Fifth Amendment."

Thus, if the minority had prevailed, no municipality in America could condemn any property in order to carry out an "economic development" project. This would have the practical effect of making such projects virtually impossible.

It is noteworthy, however, that the Supreme Court held long ago that a governmental unit can use its eminent domain power to relieve "urban blight" (see Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26, 1954). That principle was not challenged by any party in the Kelo case or by the Kelo dissenters (with the possible exception of Justice Thomas).

So, had the dissenters been in the majority, a city would be powerless to carry out a redevelopment project in a neighborhood that is only depressed--like Fort Trumbull--but if it waited until the neighborhood is actually blighted, a redevelopment project would be permissible. Permissible, but probably too late. It is not obvious how this result would represent an advance for either individual rights or public policy.

One thing that comes to mind here, is that while it does seem clear that this decision extended the rights of government, at the expense of the rights of individuals, obviously, the extension was on a right the government already enjoyed; if only in predominantly minority communities.

So, is this just wealthy white people getting upset that they are now being treated like poor minorities living in a community which is "blighted?"