Thursday, June 23, 2005


Supremes Allow Developers to Force Land Sales

For the folks advocating decisions by politicians rather than courts, this is an uncomfortable decision:
The 5-4 ruling _ assailed by dissenting Justice Sanday Day O'Connor as handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled in America _ was a defeat for some 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 revenue.
O'Connor was joined in her (dissenting opinion) by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, as well as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
(Source: Associated Pressvia the Washington Post Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes, June 23, 2005.)
This is an uncomfortable decision on many levels. I don't like the idea of local governments having the power to force the sale of people's homes to hotel and/or shopping mall developers just so cities can increase their tax revenues. An absolute ban on the practice sounds good until the city tries to renovate a "blighted" area - and a few slumlords torpedo the project by demanding far more than market price for their rotting properties. Litigating the issue of exactly what is a "blighted area" opens up the courts to charges of "judicial activism" by the losing side.

Bottom line: difficult to ever prove, but I think this 5:4 decision might have come out the other way without the Terry Schiavo "activist judges" circus. Our legislatures have been passing the buck on difficult decisions to the judiciary for too long, so the Supreme Court is throwing this hot potato back to the state and local governments.

Time to amend your state's constitution if you don't like the way this one came out. I expect several Californians are busy writing a new initiative as we speak, especially as Prop 13 made shopping malls far more economically attractive to cities than, say, affordable housing. Older coastal communities with nice beaches make good targets for hotel developers, and local governments starved for tax dollars will be tempted to cooperate.


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