Supreme Court Allows Personal Property Seizures

By: Summer Knowles
By: Summer Knowles

June 23, 2005

Can a city like Charlottesville bulldoze a private home to make way for private development? A new Supreme Court ruling says yes, it can.

Thursday the Supreme Court made it possible for local governments to seize personal property for private economic development.

The 5-4 ruling was a defeat for a group of Connecticut residents whose homes were scheduled to be wiped out to make room for an office complex. Those residents argued that cities should only be able to seize personal property for clear public use, like schools and bridges, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.

Today's ruling was a major defeat for homeowners across the nation. It's a decision that gives local government more power in defining public use, and it carries huge implications.

"This case today redefines the Constitution and that should concern us," said John Whitehead, President of the Rutherford Institute. "Sure local bodies should know, but sometimes they don't know, and sometimes they overreach, and that's where the Constitution comes in and says 'no, you don't have this power'. The founding fathers said local communities don't have that power."

Today's ruling redefines eminent domain in the U.S.Constitution. So now, instead of only being able to seize personal property for things such as schools and bridges, local governments can do so in pursuit of economic gain.

Many believe the new ruling will only benefit the rich. "If a wealthy developer--and I think that's really who this benefits, is wealthy developers--can convince a local body that they're going to make a lot of money by wiping out a few farms, under this decision it's permitted, and that's unfortunate," said Whitehead.

Local officials, however, feel differently. "What I know of where it has been used even in this particular case that was before the Supreme Court it did not only benefit the wealthy," said City Councilor Blake Caravati. "If you look at it in the long term it benefits the city, and the vibrancy, and the quality of life in a city."

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