Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23, 2005

The Kelo v. City of New London case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a stunning 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that eminent domain could be used by private interests to further economic development.

Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005)[1] was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States involving the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development. The case arose from the condemnation by New London, Connecticut, of privately owned real property so that it could be used as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan which promised 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues. The Court held in a 5–4 decision that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified such redevelopment plans as a permissible "public use" under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the dissenting opinion which was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas:

The dissenting opinion suggested that the use of this taking power in a reverse Robin Hood fashion— take from the poor, give to the rich— would become the norm, not the exception:

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

She argued that the decision eliminates "any distinction between private and public use of property — and thereby effectively delete[s] the words 'for public use' from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment." 125 S.Ct. 2655, 2671

Clarence Thomas also penned a separate originalist dissent, in which he argued that the precedents the court's decision relied upon were flawed and that "something has gone seriously awry with this Court's interpretation of the Constitution." He accuses the majority of replacing the Fifth Amendment's "Public Use" clause with a very different "public purpose" test:

This deferential shift in phraseology enables the Court to hold, against all common sense, that a costly urban-renewal project whose stated purpose is a vague promise of new jobs and increased tax revenue, but which is also suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation, is for a 'public use.'

Thomas also made use of the argument presented in the NAACP/AARP/SCLC/SJLS amicus brief on behalf of three low-income residents' groups fighting redevelopment in New Jersey, noting:

Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities. Those communities are not only systematically less likely to put their lands to the highest and best social use, but are also the least politically powerful.[11]

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