Thursday, June 23, 2005

Public use for private means ... I've spent the last few days working on a piece for the Huffington Post about how corruption today nearly always occurs when private interests are extended into the public sphere. (As opposed to when state agents seize private property.)

Then yesterday the Supreme Court unleashed a bombshell of a decision in which it ruled that the city of New London could seize the property of private interests for the "public use" of other private interests. The decision uses all kinds of language to try and safeguard the abuse of this "public use" understanding, but as Justice O'Connor notes in her dissent, it essentially dissolves the distinction between public and private altogether:
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--i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public--in the process. To reason, as the Court does, that the incidental public benefits resulting from the subsequent ordinary use of private property render economic development takings "for public use" is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property--and thereby effectively to delete the words "for public use" from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Needless to say, the stakes here are huge. The state has long been able to seize private property under eminent domain, but only for explicitly public goods such a road, dam, school, etc. Now the state can seize one person's property in order to give it to another, so long as it can demonstrate that there would be indicental public benefits. The result? Anyone with a demonstrably underdeveloped property -- such as, say, a modest beachhouse -- can now have their property legally taken from them.

If this doesn't scare you, it should. One of the corporations involved with the development plan in New London is the drug company Pfizer. If they or a comparably large company started lobbying your town council to put an office park or industrial plant where you live, who do you think would have more resources with which to persuade them?


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