Damn: New London Wins
Y'all might recall my outrage
at the notion that a city could and would just take away homes using eminent domain, not for the sake of public works but for the sake of private entities who happen to be able to generate higher tax revenue. New London, CT wanted to take away some houses so it could build a housing development and shopping center catering to the employees of the new neighboring facility of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. The residents were fought all the way to the supreme court to keep their cottages. Sadly, I see on Slate that the city of New London Connecticut has won and the homeowners have lost
. Looking at a pdf of the decision
, I see that the breakdown against me is uncharacteristically Democrat: the majority opinion is Souter, Ginsburg, Stevens, and Breyer, joined by Republican Kennedy; it was Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia and Thomas who agreed with me for once.
When I advocate regulating factories that dump chemicals or homeowners that burn things, I'm recognizing that there is no perfect box you can draw around your property. I think a major role of government is to protect those who cannot protect themselves--for example protecting future people who will need to drink the water that flows through the ground beneath your property, and current people who need to breath the air wafts from it. Another role of the government is looking out for the whole public good. If there is no other way to achieve a necessary public good that can be guaranteed to remain a public good (a metro system, say) and is also very likely not
become a private asset, then raising the possibility of eminent domain makes some sense to me. It should still be carefully debated and transparently examined by the local community as much as possible, as should any decision made by the state that particularly harms someone. (It's kind of like going to war, that way.) The direct beneficiaries of a metro system or state park is anyone who cares to use it--i.e. the public. The direct beneficiary of a housing development and shopping complex are the owners, not
the public. In this case it seems government is not fulfilling the second role while totally abandoning the first role. Sadly, it seems the aging liberal section of the court is assuming the public interst to be automatically equivalent to the government interest. Clearly that isn't always the case: it requires oversight, transparency, an involved citizenry, and some basic attempts at fairness. This is particularly sad since it always seems to me that the judiciary is the branch best equipped for actively keep the two interests aligned. If they think it's automatic, they aren't going to be doing a very good job.