Friday, June 24, 2005

Knucklehead Decision

The oral arguments for Kelo et al v. City of New London, 04-108, addressed the issue of local officials' proposed disposition of plaintiff's property qualifies as a public use within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The bottom line is a locality's right use eminent domain although the property is not blighted.

Susette Kelo moved to New London, CT, bought a home for its water view in 1997, & made extensive improvements. Wilhelmina Dery has lived in New London all her life. She was born in her house in 1918. She & her husband Charles have lived in the house since their marriage 60 years ago. They are three of the nine petitioners who own 15 properties in Fort Trumbull. They maintain their property. None are blighted or otherwise in poor condition. Their only problem: A land developer sees the land with dollar signs in his eyes. New London officials see greater economic growth to benefit the public at large. The combined perspectives outweigh homeowners' property rights, & blight is not part of the issue.

The Fort Trumbull area is situated on a peninsula that juts into the Thames River. The development plan includes a waterfront conference hotel at the center of a "small urban village" with restaurants, a health center, shopping & marinas for recreational & commercial uses. A riverwalk connect the waterfront areas of the development to the other coastal areas. Another part of the development will have 80 new residences within an urban neighborhood (most likely more “upscale” than the petitioners could ever afford) close to the state park & the new U. S. Coast Guard Museum. The rest of the development plan calls for research and development office space.

According to Justice John Paul Stevens, “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.” The Court’s majority ruling ignores the counter-argument from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor: “Cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.”

The governments & local officials have been exercising Divine Right & eminent domain for 500 yrs. – usually because someone wants to accumulate more personal wealth than anyone else rather than exercise a little altruism for the greater good. The practices have had some positive outcomes. When there are negative outcomes (as in this situation), they have destroyed people, cultures, history, & anything of intrinsic value.

Upscale urban renewal to benefit others comes with a price tag in the form of sacrifices - voluntary or otherwise. In New London, residents will sacrifice their Victorian homes, a few personal intangible assets, & tranquility. The community will sacrifice the unique personality & charisma it once offered its residents & visitors. In Washington, D.C., residents will sacrifice their homes for an upscale retail complex & a baseball stadium.

Justice Stevens places his faith in local officials deciding in the best interest if their residents. In a perfect world, he’d be right.

In the imperfect world in which we live, the majority decision was nothing short of completely knucklehead.

Justice O’Connor shows common sense in her statement. She also shows that she has the high-quality character this country needs in a chief justice.


At 24 June, 2005 11:35, Blogger IlliniPundit said...

Any comment on the fact that it was the five most liberal justices who formed the majority in this case?


At 24 June, 2005 12:50, Blogger Philosophe Forum said...

Liberal or conservative, who or what is the issue, whether its the actions of a federal/state/local elected representative or a court decision -- it comes down to a yes/no question: Is this more beneficial to the public as a whole? I reach the conclusions in my essays based on that measurement.

Yes -- That's great. Keep up the good work.
No -- How can we work around it? How can we keep this from happening again. Vote the person out of office. Amend legislation.

The basis for every decision & the goal of every elected official should be improving the quality of life for everyone not just a select few.


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