| Thursday, June 23, 2005
Cities may seize homes for economic development, Supreme
By Hope Yen / Associated Press
This land is our land
The Supreme Court decided 5-4 that cities have the right to seize
homes and businesses for private economic development that benefits the
community. As a homeowner, do you feel jeopardized by this ruling?
Yes. What happened to property rights?
No. It's unlikely cities will grab houses against our will
WASHINGTON - A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that local
governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for
private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where
economic growth often is at war with individual property rights.
The 5-4 ruling _ assailed by dissenting Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
as handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled in
America _ was a defeat for Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for
destruction to make room for an office complex. They had argued that cities
have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public
use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.
As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for
projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax
The case was one of six resolved by justices on Thursday. Still
pending at the high court are cases dealing with the constitutionality of
government Ten Commandments displays and the liability of Internet
file-sharing services for clients' illegal swapping of copyrighted songs and
movies. The Supreme Court next meets on Monday.
Writing for the court's majority in Thursday's ruling, 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.
O'Connor, who has often been a key swing vote at the court, issued a
stinging dissent, arguing that cities should not have unlimited authority to
uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to
accommodate wealthy developers.
"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private
party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," she wrote.
"The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate
influence and power in the political process, including large corporations
and development firms."
Connecticut residents involved in the lawsuit expressed dismay and
pledged to keep fighting.
"It's a little shocking to believe you can lose your home in this
country," said resident Bill Von Winkle, who said he would refuse to leave
his home, even if bulldozers showed up. "I won't be going anywhere. Not my
house. This is definitely not the last word."
Scott Bullock, an attorney for the Institute for Justice
representing the families, added: "A narrow majority of the court simply got
the law wrong today and our Constitution and country will suffer as a
At issue was the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows
governments to take private property through eminent domain if the land is
for "public use."