Supreme Court Delivers Blow to Property Rights
In a 5-4 ruling issued today, the Supreme Court said that cities have the right to seize private property to advance private development interests. Basically, if a city thinks that a new shopping center built on your property would benefit the city, it can compensate you for your house, seize it and hand the property over to a private developer.
The Supreme Court’s rationale was that the greater economic needs of a community trump individual property rights guaranteed by the 5th Amendment.
This ruling makes me queasy. I don’t like the idea that a city can just take my house because a developer wants to build a hotel where I happen to live. Clearly, the Constitution allows the government to take property with due compensation for “public use.” But that has traditionally meant seizing property for the building of roads and public buildings and such. Taking property for private development is a pretty big leap and seems, well, wrong.
Interestingly, the four Justices who dissented (O’Connor, Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas) are considered the most conservative of the Court’s justices. And yet their rationale was very populist in nature. O’Connor, in her dissent said:
"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but 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."
That’s my fear exactly. This ruling permits wealthy developers to use city levers to do pretty much whatever they want. Developers already wield a good deal of political power and now the opportunity to abuse that power is greater than ever. I’m generally a big fan of development but not at the expense of people’s private homes and businesses. If someone doesn’t want to sell to a developer, the city shouldn’t be able to force them.
This is not a positive ruling.