Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes
By HOPE YEN
The Associated Press
Thursday, June 23, 2005; 6:29 PM
WASHINGTON -- Cities may bulldoze people's homes to make way for shopping malls or other private development, a divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday, giving local governments broad power to seize private property to generate tax revenue.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the decision bowed to the rich and powerful at the expense of middle-class Americans.
The 5-4 decision means that homeowners will have more limited rights. Still, legal experts said they didn't expect a rush to claim homes.
&quot;The message of the case to cities is yes, you can use eminent domain, but you better be careful and conduct hearings,&quot; said Thomas Merrill, a Columbia law professor specializing in property rights.
The closely watched case involving New London, Conn., homeowners was one of six decisions issued Thursday as the court neared the end of its term. The justices are scheduled to release their final six rulings, including one on the constitutionality of Ten Commandments displays on public property, on Monday.
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said New London could pursue private development under the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property if the land is for public use, since the project the city has in mind promises to bring more jobs and revenue.
&quot;Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government,&quot; Stevens wrote, adding that local officials are better positioned than federal judges to decide what's best for a community.
He was joined in his opinion by other members of the court's LIBERAL wing _ David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, as well as Reagan appointee Justice Anthony Kennedy, in noting that states are free to pass additional protections if they see fit.
The four-member LIBERAL bloc typically has favored greater deference to cities, which historically have used the takings power for urban renewal projects.
At least eight states _ Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington _ forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight. Other states either expressly allow a taking for private economic purposes or have not spoken clearly to the question.
In dissent, O'Connor criticized the majority for abandoning the conservative principle of individual property rights and handing &quot;disproportionate influence and power&quot; to the well-heeled.
&quot;The specter of condemnation hangs over all property,&quot; O'Connor wrote. &quot;Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.&quot;
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