Greedy local government bureaucrats and their chosen fat cat developer friends got a shot in the arm from the Supreme Court last week when the high court sided with the City of New London, Connecticut in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.
The city of New London can now seize the ground that contains the 15 homes, knock them down and lease the property to a private developer for 99 years. No public use was argued by the city, just an increase in the tax base, and incredibly, five justices saw it the city’s way, while four justices dissented led by Sandra Day O’Conner.
The New London Development Corp., the quasi-public agency behind the redevelopment project already owns 90 acres on the Thames River, but the company wants the ground that contains the 15 remaining homes in the area and used an eminent domain action to secure the remaining property.
But, for some homeowners whose families have lived there since 1901, no price is high enough.
Of course most readers remember that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment contains the clear language that no person should “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
For anybody but local government bureaucrats and a handful of Supreme Court justices, things like highways, police stations, and courthouses come to mind as examples of “public use.” And “just compensation” means what amount of cash a seller demands in exchange for his or her property.
But now, the Fifth Amendment has been perverted to the point where “public use” means any private use that generates more tax dollars for city hall and “just compensation” meaning whatever the local government goons can steal the property for.
“Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government,” said Justice John Paul Stevens.
Judges should give city councils and state legislatures “broad latitude in determining what public needs justify the use of the takings power,” he added.
Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer joined him.
Dissenting Justices said the court was ignoring the basic rights to private property that were written into the Constitution.
Justice O’Connor said all property was now potentially subject to seizure.
“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,” she said.
Justice Clarence Thomas noted that redevelopment schemes hurt the poor, minorities and the elderly.
“Over 97% of the individuals forcibly removed from their homes by the ‘slum clearance’ project upheld by this court (in 1954) were black,” Thomas said.
Here in Las Vegas, Ngai Pindell, who teaches property law and land use regulation at UNLV’s Boyd Law School, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the court addressed a difficult case “in the principled way.”
“The case shows how hard it is for cities to balance individual protections and public benefits,” Pindell said. “There’s potential for abuse on both sides, and the court opted for a flexible approach as opposed to a more rigid per se test. And I think that’s appropriate, given the difficulty of the decisions involved.”
Abuse on both sides? Does Pindell consider it abusive if a property owner wishes to continue to own his or her property rather than be forced to hand it over to government so a new Costco or Home Depot can be built to generate more tax revenue? And, this guy is molding the minds of aspiring barristers? We should all start sleeping in shifts.
United States Conference of Mayors Executive Director Tom Cochran released a statement that included: “The Supreme Court joins with The United States Conference of Mayors, as well as the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the National Council of State Legislators, the Council of State Governments, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association in recognizing that without the use of eminent domain, cities cannot make the changes necessary to sustain healthy economic and demographic growth. The power of eminent domain provides elected officials at all levels of governments one of the basic tools they need to ensure the growth and well-being of their communities.”
What he really means is to ensure growth of tax revenue and well being of government and government employees.
Harry Pappas, whose family’s property in downtown Las Vegas was taken by the City of Las Vegas and given to the Freemont Street Experience, a joint venture of the downtown casino owners, provides a clearer perspective: “America now is just like the Nazi countries or the communist countries,” Pappas told the Review-Journal, recalling how his mother’s family lost their property in Greece to the Nazis during World War II.
“They just took the Fifth Amendment out of the Constitution,” he said, referring to the amendment prohibiting government from taking property “without just compensation” and “due process of law.”
“When they come to take your property, kill them,” Pappas said.
French [send him mail] is executive
vice president of a Nevada bank and a policy fellow of the Nevada Policy Research
Institute. He is the 2005 recipient of the Murray N. Rothbard Award from the Center
for Libertarian Studies.