Another horrendous ruling from the Supreme Court. After some residents understandably challenged their local city’s efforts to seize their homes by force to give to private developers, the Supreme Court ruled on the side of the government and the developers. And yes, it was another 5-4 ruling. Justice Stevens, writing for the majority, said:
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…This Court’s authority…extends only to determining whether the City’s proposed condemnations are for a "public use" within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Because over a century of our case law interpreting that provision dictates an affirmativeanswer to that question, we may not grant petitioners the relief that they seek.
So, apparently giving money to private developers for their own profit is a "public use." This is what you get when you rely on interpretations of interpretations instead of just reading the Constitution. Kennedy, Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer concurred with his opinion.
O’Connor wrote the dissenting opinion, expressing a refreshing respect for property rights:
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…When interpreting the Constitution, we begin with the unremarkable presumptionthat every word in the document has independent meaning, "that no word was unnecessarily used, or needlessly added." Wright v. United States, 302 U. S. 583, 588 (1938). In keeping with that presumption, we have read the Fifth Amendment’s language to impose two distinct conditions on the exercise of eminent domain: "the taking must be for a ‘public use’ and ‘just compensation’ must be paid to the owner." Brown v. Legal Foundation of Wash., 538 U. S. 216, 231-232 (2003)…Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.
She quoted Justice Chase:
"An ACT of the Legislature (for I cannot call it a law) contrary to the great first principles of the social compact, cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legislative authority… A few instances will suffice to explain what I mean… [A] law that takes property from A. and gives it to B: It is against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with SUCH powers; and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that they have done it." Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 388 (1798) (emphasis deleted).
Finally, someone willing to go back at least to the founding principles of the country instead of just piddling with semantics! Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas dissented as well, and in Thomas’s dissent he takes the "interpretations of interpretations" trend to task:
The Court relies almost exclusively on this Court’s prior cases to derive today’s far-reaching, and dangerous, result. See ante, at 8-12. But the principles this Court should employ to dispose of this case are found in the Public Use Clause itself, not in Justice Peckham’s high opinion of reclamation laws, see supra, at 11. When faced with a clash of constitutional principle and a line of unreasoned cases wholly divorced from the text, history, and structure of our founding document, we should not hesitate to resolve the tension in favor of the Constitution’s original meaning.
You can read the entirety of the court’s opinion, including dissents, here.
I really don’t know what’s up with the Supreme court. Although, after the thrashing they gave our rights when ruling on the medical marijuana issue, I suspect they’re just high.