SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS TAKING OF PRIVATE PROPERTY
WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Local governments may seize homes, farms and businesses for private development, according to a split decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 5-4 ruling gives cities wide power to bulldoze residences for shopping malls and other businesses in order to generate tax revenue. Alabama Farmers Federation Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson said the court's decision sets a dangerous precedent.
"This ruling radically expands the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows government to take private property for public use," Patterson said. "In the past, eminent domain was generally used only for public roads, waterways and utilities. Today's decision gives local governments free rein to seize lower-value homes in order to make way for businesses that will generate more tax dollars."
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor issued a stinging dissent opinion. She argued that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers. O'Connor was joined in her opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Today's ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn. They filed suit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices.
Nationwide, more than 10,000 properties were threatened or condemned in recent years, according to the Institute for Justice, a Washington public interest law firm representing the New London homeowners.
The Alabama Farmers Federation has a policy supporting private property rights, particularly with regards to land use planning. Patterson said the action taken by the government of New London, Conn., was the most egregious use of eminent domain he's seen in many years.