Brewtown Politico

Carrying a little stick and speaking loudly in Milwaukee


The Supreme Court ruled yesterday on a case involving eminent domain. It involved a New London, Connecticut property owners who have refused to give up their homes so that the city can use the land as part of a riverfront development project.

Eminent domain is a well established right of government, and it has been used in the past to take private land for building roads, parks and other projects. However, as this editorial in USA Today explains, this latest ruling may signal a green light for abuse of the practice:

New London impressed the court majority with a carefully formulated economic development plan that would broadly benefit the community. But other localities have brazenly abused their power to seize citizens' property:

• A city in Washington state removed a woman in her 80s from her home of 55 years supposedly to expand a sewer plant, then sold the land to an auto dealership.

• A New Jersey development agency tried to seize an elderly woman's home and two businesses to provide more parking for one of Donald Trump's casino hotels; the state Supreme Court stopped it.

• A city in Kansas took a used-car lot and turned it over to the new-car dealer next door, who had failed in his efforts to buy the site from the previous owner.

It's an odd day when I side with the likes of Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist, but their concerns were justified. Siding with those three was Sandra Day O'Connor who summed it up best:

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor objected that "the words `for public use' do not realistically exclude any takings, and thus do not exert any constraint on the eminent domain power."

O'Connor said, "Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded."

The majority did indicate that states have the right to pass tougher restrictions on governments seizing property. This ruling may provide some impetus for that to happen.


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