Eminent Domain Ruling Labeled 'a Horrible Precedent'

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A spokesman for the Libertarian Party of Connecticut Thursday accused the U.S. Supreme Court of setting "a horrible precedent" in siding with local governments that seize property for the so-called "public good." Kenneth Gordon called it a "sad day in American history."

The high court's ruling on eminent domain "now allows government to be in cahoots with business to steal property from private owners to give essentially to the highest bidders," said Gordon, the communications director for the Libertarian Party of Connecticut. "It's crossing a line that I hoped we never were going to cross," he told Cybercast News Service.

In a 5-4 decision, the court allowed governments to take private property against the owners' consent through eminent domain so long as the owners receive fair compensation.

"Just as we decline to second-guess the City's considered judgments about the efficacy of its development plan, we also decline to second-guess the City's determinations as to what lands it needs to acquire in order to effectuate the project," stated Justice John Paul Stevens in the majority opinion.

Suzette Kelo and several other homeowners in New London, Conn., sued the city after it announced plans to replace their homes with a riverfront hotel, health club and offices. The development was part of a plan to draw tourists to the Thames riverfront adjoining a Pfizer pharmaceutical corporation research center.

Stevens pointed out that "the [New London Development Corporation] intended the development plan to capitalize on the arrival of the Pfizer facility and the new commerce it was expected to attract." This was designed, he wrote, "to make the City more attractive and create leisure and recreational opportunities."

But Gordon, from the Libertarian Party, asserted that "the political thugs" had won as a result of the Supreme Court's verdict.

"The deepest pockets will be able to pull the political strings to take over any neighborhoods or any pieces of property they may want. Eminent domain is not corporatism; it was intended to build highways and railroads, things that were usable by the entire public, for the public good, not for individual corporate profits. I'd hate to think what comes next," said Gordon.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing that as a result of the majority ruling, "any property may now be taken for the benefit of another party." She also warned that "the fallout from this decision will not be random.

"The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms," O'Connor wrote.

The National League of Cities supported New London in the case, and hailed the decision as one of the "most effective tools for ensuring economic development."

"It's important to note that the Court did not expand the power, but reaffirmed its current use, which has been indispensable for revitalizing local economies, creating much-needed jobs, and generating revenue that enables cities to provide essential services," said Anthony A. Williams, president of the National League of Cities and mayor of Washington, D.C.

"With cities and towns facing ever-shrinking resources, we need all the help we can to redevelop our neighborhoods and provide jobs for our citizens," Williams added.

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