Pardon me, You’re in My Kitchen: The Supreme Court and Eminent Domain

When you walk through the housewares section of your local Wal-Mart, remember that it used to be Maggie Smith’s kitchen, and she’s not happy you’re there.

Or at least there a fair chance the area used to be someone’s kitchen, or living room, or back yard.Wal-Mart has been a common beneficiary of local governments using their power of eminent domain to seize private property for the economic advancement of the community. Wal-Mart is hardly alone, as communities across the country have found more and more reasons to seize private property for the enrichment of their citizens (except the property owners whose homes were taken).

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear a typical case brought by a group of New London, Connecticut homeowners. The Supremes heard oral arguments yesterday.

It’s risky to jump to conclusions on the sentiment of the Court based on oral arguments. Here’s what some media outlets thought:

CNN:
Striking an unusual populist tone, the Supreme Court appeared divided Tuesday over whether city officials in Connecticut have the authority to seize homes in a working-class neighborhood and turn the property over to private developers.

Detroit Free Press:
The Supreme Court appeared sympathetic Tuesday toward a group of New London, Conn., homeowners fighting to keep their land, but justices seemed equally skeptical of their own power to keep the city from seizing property to create an upscale development.
It’s the first major case on eminent domain — the power of the government to condemn property for redevelopment — to reach the high court in years.

Washington Post:
An attorney for a group of Connecticut homeowners told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that his clients have a constitutional right to stay in their houses even though their city says it needs the sites for privately developed offices, hotels and parking, in a case that could affect property rights nationwide.

The lawyer, Scott Bullock of the libertarian Institute for Justice, said that if New London, Conn., can use its power of eminent domain to force Susette Kelo and six other owners to sell for the sake of jobs and tax revenue that private-sector development brings, the Fifth Amendment guarantee that private property cannot be taken for “public use” without just compensation would be a dead letter.

If you think private property rights are important this may very well be the most important case facing the Supreme Court in our lifetime.

–James Jewell
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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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