Archive for Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Supreme Court to hear eminent domain case

September 29, 2004


— The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide when local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will to make way for projects like shopping malls and hotel complexes that produce more tax revenue.

The court already has given governments broad power to take private property through eminent domain, provided the owner is given "just compensation." This often involves blighted neighborhoods residents are eager to leave.

But in recent years more cities and towns have been accused of abusing their authority, razing nice homes to make way for parking lots for casinos and other tax-producing businesses.

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.

"If you own a home, if you own a small business, this could directly affect you," said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, a Washington public interest law firm representing the land owners.

In agreeing to hear a Connecticut case early next year, justices will revisit an issue they last dealt with 20 years ago. The court unanimously ruled then that Hawaii could take land from large property owners and resell it to others, and determined that decisions about takings were best left to elected leaders.

In the latest case, Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn., filed a lawsuit after city officials announced plans to bulldoze their homes to clear the way for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices. The residents refused to budge, arguing it was an unjustified taking of their property.

The neighborhood included Victorian-era houses and small businesses that in some instances had been owned by several generations of families. New London, a town of less than 26,000, had been losing residents and jobs when it planned the land takeover, city leaders said.

The Fifth Amendment allows governments to take private property for "public use."

The appeal turns on whether "public use" involves seizures not to revitalize slums or build new roads or schools, but to raze unblighted homes and businesses to bring in more money for a town.

Nationwide, more than 10,000 properties were threatened or condemned between 1998 and 2002, according to the Institute for Justice.

Other actions Tuesday by the Supreme Court:¢ Agreed to consider whether foreign cruise lines sailing in U.S. waters must comply with a federal law that requires improved access to the disabled.¢ Rejected a last-ditch bid to put Ralph Nader's name on Oregon's presidential ballot.¢ Agreed to decide whether political parties could open their primaries to all voters, in a constitutional challenge to Oklahoma's voting system.¢ Agreed to hear a case in which a disgruntled former client of defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran contended he was improperly ordered to stop picketing outside Cochran's office.¢ Said it would hear a death row appeal from a Pennsylvania man who says jurors should have been told they could have sentenced him to prison without parole.¢ Agreed to hear an appeal involving an amateur radio operator who says the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., unjustly denied him a permit to use a radio antenna for commercial purposes. The radio operator seeks money damages from the city.

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