Thursday, June 23, 2005

eminent domain in the news

It's not often I find myself agreeing with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, but today I do. The Supreme Court today supported the city of New London, allowing it to use eminent domain to take over several houses. The city will turn the land over to developers to build a new retail and office complex.

I understand the concept of eminent domain; it is often used for infrastructure projects like railroads, or to clear away urban blight. But this case was purely because the city wanted to allow more offices and retail space to be built, to bring in more tax dollars and attract jobs. These weren't dumps; even in his majority opinion Justice Stevens noted that "there is no allegation that any of these properties is blighted or otherwise in poor condition; rather, they were condemned only because they happen to be located in the development area."

Although I support the concept of eminent domain in appropriate circumstances, this is a tough one to explain. To me, this doesn't pass the public need test. I have a hard time accepting the use of government power to hand land over to developers just for retail and office space. Right-wingers will doubtless seize on this case to push their nutty ideology that any form of government regulation constitutes a taking, in that it denies a property owner the right to exploit his property however he sees fit.

An unfortunate ruling.

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