Thursday, June 23, 2005

Like Something That Really Could Have Happened in Nazi Germany

The United States Supreme Court has just had one of its Dred Scott moments, and of the five justices who voted to remove the concept of private property from the Constitution, none deserves his name to live in infamy more than Anthony Kennedy (for making Ronald Reagan look a fool for nominating him).

In a bitter dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the majority had created an ominous precedent. "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property," she wrote. "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."

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private property, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," she wrote. "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," Justice O'Connor went on, "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."

Justice Stevens was joined in the majority by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

....Justice Stevens noted that the homes in question could not be considered a slum area, and that indeed some of the people have lived in their homes for decades. Rather, he said, the properties "were condemned only because they happen to be located in the development area."

"In affirming the city's authority to take petitioners' properties, we do not minimize the hardship that condemnations may entail, notwithstanding the payment of just compensation," Justice Stevens wrote, adding that local governments have the authority to refine their condemnation policies, and curb them if they wish.

The case is Kelo v. City of New London, No. 04-108. Susette Kelo is one of the property owners who petitioned the courts to block the condemnation of their homes in the Fort Trumbull area of New London.

"She has made extensive improvements to her house, which she prizes for its water view," Justice Stevens noted. Another petitioner, Wilhelmina Dery, "was born in her Fort Trumbull house in 1918 and has lived there her entire life," the justice wrote. "Her husband, Charles (also a petitioner), has lived in the house since they married some 60 years ago."

Some of the affected homeowners were dismayed. "It's a little shocking to believe you can lose your home in this country," Bill Von Winkle said in an interview with The Associated Press. He said he would not leave even if he sees the bulldozers coming.

Richard Durbin could not be reached for comment.

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