Home Of The Free????????
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that local governments may seize people’s homes and businesses — even against their will — for private economic development.
It was a decision fraught with huge implications for a country with many areas, particularly the rapidly growing urban and suburban areas, facing countervailing pressures of development and property ownership rights.
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 revenue.
The 5-4 ruling — assailed by dissenting Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as handing “disproportionate influence and power” to the well-heeled — represented a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex.
Those residents 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.
Under the ruling, residents still will be entitled to “just compensation” for their homes as provided under the Fifth Amendment. But residents involved in the lawsuit expressed dismay and pledged to keep fighting.
Issue across the country
Nationwide, more than 10,000 properties were threatened or condemned between 1998 and 2002, according to the Institute for Justice, a Washington public interest law firm representing the New London homeowners.
In many cases, according to the group, cities are pushing the limits of their power to accommodate wealthy developers. Courts, meanwhile, are divided over the extent of city power, with seven states saying economic development can justify a taking and eight states allowing a taking only if it eliminates blight.
In New London, city officials envision replacing a stagnant enclave with commercial development that would attract tourists to the Thames riverfront, complementing an adjoining Pfizer Corp. research center and a proposed Coast Guard museum.
“The record is clear that New London was a city desperate for economic rejuvenation,” the city’s legal filing states, in asking the high court to defer to local governments in deciding what constitutes “public use.”
The New London neighborhood that will be swept away includes Victorian-era houses and small businesses that in some instances have been owned by several generations of families. Among the New London residents in the case is a couple in their 80s who have lived in the same home for more than 50 years.
Where other states stand
According to the residents’ filing, the seven states that allow condemnations for private business development alone are Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and North Dakota.
Eight states forbid the use of eminent domain when the economic purpose is not to eliminate blight; they are Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington.
Another three — Delaware, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — have indicated they probably will find condemnations for economic development alone unconstitutional, while the remaining states have not addressed or spoken clearly to the question.
© 2005 The Associated Press.