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Another blow to the rights of the little man.

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alabama

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Jun 23, 1:12 PM EDT

Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes

By HOPE YEN
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where economic growth often is at war with individual property rights.

The 5-4 ruling - assailed by dissenting Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled in America - was a defeat for Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They had argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.

As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.

The case was one of six resolved by justices on Thursday. Among those still pending for the court, which next meets on Monday, is one testing the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commands on government property.

Writing for the court's majority in Thursday's ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens said 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, he said.

"The city has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including - but by no means limited to - new jobs and increased tax revenue," Stevens wrote.

Stevens was joined in his opinion by other members of the court's liberal wing - David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. The bloc typically has favored greater deference to cities, which historically have used the takings power for urban renewal projects that benefit the lower and middle class.

They were joined by Reagan appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy in rejecting the conservative principle of individual property rights. Critics had feared that would allow a small group of homeowners to stymie rebuilding efforts that benefit the city through added jobs and more tax revenue for social programs.

"It is not for the courts to oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size of a particular project area," Stevens wrote.

O'Connor argued that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," she wrote. "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

Connecticut residents involved in the lawsuit expressed dismay and pledged to keep fighting.

"It's a little shocking to believe you can lose your home in this country," said resident Bill Von Winkle, who said he would refuse to leave his home, even if bulldozers showed up. "I won't be going anywhere. Not my house. This is definitely not the last word."

Scott Bullock, an attorney for the Institute for Justice representing the families, added: "A narrow majority of the court simply got the law wrong today and our Constitution and country will suffer as a result."

At issue was the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property through eminent domain if the land is for "public use."

Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn., filed suit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices.

New London officials countered that the private development plans served a public purpose of boosting economic growth that outweighed the homeowners' property rights, even if the area wasn't blighted.

Connecticut state Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, a former mayor and city council member who voted in favor of eminent domain, said the decision "means a lot for New London's future."

The lower courts had been divided on the issue, with many allowing a taking only if it eliminates blight.

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.

New London, a town of less than 26,000, once was a center of the whaling industry and later became a manufacturing hub. More recently the city has suffered the kind of economic woes afflicting urban areas across the country, with losses of residents and jobs.

City officials envision a commercial development that would attract tourists to the Thames riverfront, complementing an adjoining Pfizer Corp. research center and a proposed Coast Guard museum.

New London was backed in its appeal by the National League of Cities, which argued that a city's eminent domain power was critical to spurring urban renewal with development projects such Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Kansas City's Kansas Speedway.

Under the ruling, residents still will be entitled to "just compensation" for their homes as provided under the Fifth Amendment. However, Kelo and the other homeowners had refused to move at any price, calling it an unjustified taking of their property.

The case is Kelo et al v. City of New London, 04-108.

---


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Mike

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Unbelievable. Guess we better start paying more attention to who we vote for.
 

alabama

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Mike I see they are planing on extending I-85 out your way. Yep they say they are going all the way to Mississippi with it. Are you in the new righ of way?
 

Mike

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Alabama said:
Mike I see they are planing on extending I-85 out your way. Yep they say they are going all the way to Mississippi with it. Are you in the new righ of way?

I don't have a clue. Can you get a Proposed map?
 

Mike

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reader (the Second) said:
I gotta agree with you guys on this one. Except if they are building a school or road or other public good, they should be barred from taking people's homes. This opens Pandora's box, given the influence of developers in city politics. Donate to my campaign fund and I'll seize houses for you and make your life easy as a developer. Even the one case they mentioned -- riverfront hotel, health club, and offices -- basically benefits a developer more than it benefits the city. :mad:

I always thought "eminent domain" was for use by the public as a whole,i.e. schools, roads, railroads etc. Never dreamed it could be used to take peoples property for "Taxation" purposes. The big kicker nowadays (down here anyway) is for the city, county, and/or state to take a piece of private property and "GIVE" it to a large company (HYUNDAI-here) as a way to create jobs. They give big tax incentives also.
My feelings are that small businesses employ many more than the "Biggies". Why not use that money for low interest. "small business" loans? They would probably employ more people and get the money back too!
 

Radar

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Claiming "eminent domain" for this is a crock, even if they are going to be paying "just compensation". I say if individuals lose their homes, not only should they be compensated up front, but receive yearly royalties in the future for the Starbucks that was once their home.
 

nr

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Their usage of "eminent domain" sounds very skewed.
"Blight" sounds like it could be a wishywashy term meaning anything. Except the lawyers' houses!

Devolopers are always pulling fast ones around here. They've got a bag full of tricks all of which include lies.
 

alabama

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Mike I don't know where the new ROW will be. They are just now starting the study but it has to be running out your way. The paper said that the ROW for US 80 would not be used. I will keep an ear open.
 

mtn_90

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The Supreme Court is on a roll aren't they...first the Nevada rancher and now this.

Eminent domain used to be used for just public takings when it was foreseeably a major benefit for the public. Now, from this case, it's opening the doors for super walmarts and targets and whatever other big businesses are out there to take what they feel like when they feel like it.

What a shame. All our places are in jeopardy for this type of thing to happen. After all -- what are the two most precious resources in this world? In my opinion they are water and space...we are running out of both. Now the federal gov't has given a license to the big businesses to secure whatever space they think they should have to make money and letting them wipe out the small guy. What's next? Making sure they have the monopoly on our aquafors too so they can keep the bathrooms running smoothly?
 

ranch hand

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Highway plan kills beef plant



I-40 Plan Prompts Closure Of State's Largest Beef Packer

Thu Jun 23, 2005

Oklahoma



The Oklahoma Department of Transportation's plan for rebuilding Interstate 40 in downtown Oklahoma City has forced the state's last USDA-approved beef slaughter and packing facility to close, Eyewitness News 5 learned Thursday.



Mikkelson Beef, which is located at 103 Southeast Eighth St., auctioned off its equipment and other assets Thursday. Owner and President Chuck Mikkelson said the plant was forced to close because of the I-40 Crosstown Expressway relocation project, which is expected to be finished by September 2008.



Mikkelson, who operated the slaughtering and packing plant for more than 25 years, blames the Department of Transportation for the closure. He said ODOT offered $450,000 to buy his building -- a figure Mikkelson said is not enough.



"We've asked to be relocated," Mikkelson said. "They could've relocated us to another facility across the city here. They got the estimates on what it would cost to put us over there. It was $7 million ... $8 million dollars -- which they would not do."



ODOT Spokeswoman Brenda Perry said the project has led plenty of change near I-40. She said the agency doesn't think it has been unfair in its dealings with business owners.



"We feel the I-40 Crosstown Project is a success story," Perry said. "We've worked extremely hard to be fair and feel that we are."



Everything from the processing machines to the antique typewriter at Mikkelson beef were up for sale on Thursday. Mikkelson claims the project is wiping out his family's history and future.



"It's probably the end," he said. "The state's destroyed a good business here in the state. We're fifth in the nation in cattle numbers, (but) we got no packing houses."



Lisa Mayberry, an Oklahoma City meat buyer, said she is disappointed with ODOT's unwillingness to pay more for the building.



"It's not right for the state to do them this way," Mayberry said. "I've dealt with Chuck and them for years and stuff. It's sad ... it's sad to see them have to close it."



ODOT officials said little about the case because they are in the midst of litigation with Mikkelson Beef. Perry said only that the department follows federal and state regulations when it comes to property acquisition and relocation.



Before its closure, Mikkelson Beef was Oklahoma's largest -- and last -- USDA-inspected cattle slaughter facility.
 

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