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From a Travesty of Justice to Poetic Justice

By maxwell edison ·
In my opinion, one of the biggest travesties of our judicial system, at least among the more recent travesties, is the court support of various jurisdictions concerning their implementation of the states' power of eminent domain. The power of eminent domain is the method by which the "state" can take (or buy for "fair market value") private land that could be put to better use for the "public good". This power was intended to be used primarily for the construction of public roads and such that might run through someone's front yard or back pasture. Many of the Interstate highways, for example, were constructed on land that was taken (bought) by the government through the power of eminent domain.

However, in recent years, many municipalities have been using their power of eminent domain to take private property (or buy for "fair market value") so they can turn around and sell that land to a private developer who has intentions of building commercial, industrial, or retail businesses. The increase in tax revenue derived from a commercial business versus the relatively insignificant property taxes collected on a private residence served "the public good", or so said the states' arguments.

There was a court case recently where a person challenged the government's power of eminent domain when his local municipality wanted to take his home so that a Wal-Mart could be built on that very spot. (Increased sales tax revenue versus residential property tax revenue, the argument went, equals "for the public good".) Balderdash, the home owner said. You can't take my home to make room for a Wal-Mart, and I'll take you to court to prevent it from happening. Well, not only did this particular case fail in court, but the practice caught on, and many different municipalities started doing the same thing.

One such case, Kelo versus the City of New London, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The question before the court was to consider if states and/or local municipalities really did have the power to take private land for the purpose of increasing tax revenues. (I'm paraphrasing the "question" put before the court.)

How did the Supreme Court rule?

They ruled, in a 5-4 decision, in favor of the municipalities rights to seize personal property for the "public good" even if that "public good" was described as being for tax revenue increases and/or for job creation, etc.

The supporting judges were:

Justice John Paul Stevens
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Stephen Breyer
Justice David Souter

The dissenting judges were:

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist
Justice Antonin Scalia
Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

It this a travesty, or what? Am I alone in seeing the dangerous precedent being established here?

A developer in New Hampshire has recently filed the necessary papers, and it appears as though everything is in proper order, to have the state seize a private home that is situated in an area conducive to commercial development that meets the criteria established as legitimate reasons to exercise the power of eminent domain. This developer plans to build a hotel on the property, and the local municipality will reap financial gains as a result -- and financial gains equals "the public good". And after all, the Supreme Court ruled that such power is indeed in the hands of a municipality/developer partnership to do just that.

But here's the good part. The house in question is owned -- lock, stock, and barrel -- by Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who actually paved the legal way for a municipality/developer partnership to take it away. Let's see how he likes the government taking his house away to make room for a private hotel.

Relevant Links:

And the good one:

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an opinion and a few questions.

by TonytheTiger In reply to From a Travesty of Justic ...

The constitution doesn't say "Public Good" it says "Public USE". Shopping centers and Stadiums do not qualify (It's OK, however, for a developer to ASK the home-owners if they want to sell in these circumstances, even offering them ABOVE market value as incentive. But "No" shoudl mean "No"!) Shame on those Justices!

How much is the city getting from the developer for the land they paid "fair market value" for?

Who is going to pay for the Water and other utility lines? the extra Fire and Police that will need to be hired?

Don't you think that this opens the door for corporations to test the ethics of some members of city government?

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you may have missed the point...

by Jaqui In reply to an opinion and a few ques ...

the latter part of original post, one of the judges that voted FOR the government doing this is now having it done to himself.

I think it's perfect. he said it's legal, in his position as a supreme court judge, so now he can't stop it from costing him his own home.

forget the other issues, it the poetic justice aspect that's really important.

( after all, higher business taxes should help cover those costs, then people having more income from the fallout of the commercial operation will also add to the local tax base. [ spending on home improvements, more residential development as there are jobs to be had in the area.... ] )

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I may have, but I didn't

by TonytheTiger In reply to you may have missed the p ...

I may have, but I didn't.

Karma is a fine thing (one of my favorite things to see, in fact), but in this case it's not enough.

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I agree with you 100%

by In reply to From a Travesty of Justic ...

From the Fifth Amendment:

"...No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation..."

I just cannot comprehend how the U.S. Supreme Court can interpret the term "public use" to include ownership and use by a retail store. WalMart lovers could argue that the people benefit from the existence of a WalMart store in that location. But, this is something I would expect of the CHINESE Supreme Court, not the U.S. one.

Here's another link:

Critic tries to get Souter's home seized


P.S. And you probably thought I was a big-time liberal... :-)

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"You probably thought I was a big-time liberal"

by DC Guy In reply to I agree with you 100%

You show signs of being a "classic liberal" in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson. These days we're called "libertarians" (yuck, who coined that stupid word?) because the Left has co-opted the word "liberal." When they first took it it used to mean classically liberal on social issues but a bit fascist on economic issues, sort of Lite Socialism. Now it seems to be almost indistinguishable from socialism: the government is wiser and nobler than we are so it gets to be Big Nanny.

Libertarians believe that the Constitution is still a pretty good idea and that about 99% of what the government does violates it blatantly. We also tend to be curmudgeons because we honestly can't understand why the other 99.9% of the American people just don't care that the government gets away with it.

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Libertarian. . . .

by maxwell edison In reply to "You probably thought I w ... how I identify my political ideology. The Libertarian party, however, is a bit too extreme to be taken seriously, especially considering the reality of today's political climate.

And as for those people who dislike such "labels", I might suggest that they have either not given much thought to establishing a core set of principles for themselves, and/or they want to be seen as "open minded" (but are actually seen as lacking in fundamental beliefs), and/or they don't understand how such labels can be revealing about a person, and/or they don't want their true beliefs to be so readily identified, and/or...

I think you just gave me another label, curmudgeon, when you said, "We also tend to be curmudgeons because we honestly can't understand why the other 99.9% of the American people just don't care that the government gets away with it."

Gee, that does sound just like me. I just can't understand why these people are so blind, and/or are so willing to capitulate to the desires of others, and/or are so terrified of accepting full and total self-responsibility, and/or can't foresee the dangers of a huge (and monstrous) government, and/or are so willing to give up their freedoms in exchange for the promise (the false promise) of a little more personal security, and/or don't give their fellow human being enough credit to have the wherewithal to be self-sufficient, and/or don't understand the real intent of the U.S. Constitution, and/or........

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by Tony Hopkinson In reply to "You probably thought I w ...

are the archetype of politicians. Politics has always been about expediency, but liberals have raised it to an art form. At least socialist and capitalists have some long term principles and policies aside from total self interest. Wouldn't trust a liberal as far as I could spit him.

As for poor old supreme court judge I think it's very unfair to single him out, surely the other four's homes could be put to better public use as well.

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Nothing really wrong with people

by TonytheTiger In reply to Liberals

being liberal, I just hate to see governments act that way, and ours does (even when the conservatives are in power).

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Big Business Triumphs Again!

by TheChas In reply to From a Travesty of Justic ...

Like you, I dislike this ruling on personal property rights.

While any way you look at it, the looser is the common man, the winner in this case is not liberal government, but big business.

In the coming years, I expect that we will see a significant increase of businesses throttling city and state governments. Holding jobs at ransom in exchange for property for new facilities and expansions.

I expect that we will even see companies forcing their smaller competitors to relocate in hopes that the costs of relocation will drive them out of business.

Expansion via eminent domain will be more cost effective than free market competition.

Liberals are not the people you need to fear.

It is the business man with a lust to monopolize his industry that is behind the lose of personal freedoms in the US.


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Who's to "blame"?

by maxwell edison In reply to Big Business Triumphs Aga ...

In any such case, who's really "to blame"? The guy who wants to take something, or the guy that allows it -- and in most cases, encourages it?

If you have a retail store, and you have a guy that you trust to handle your business, but this guy lets all his friends come in to raid the shelves, who's to blame?

Sorry, Chas. While you choose to find yet another reason to demonize big-business, I'll continue to see it as a reason to dismantle big-government. The people we've entrusted to mind the store are giving away all our goods.

While you choose to blame the guy who wants something that's not his (at least in this case, but not in other cases), I choose to blame the guy who gives it to him (in all cases).

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