Black Activists Condemn Supreme Court Attack on Property Rights
"Abusive" Ruling Allowing Governments to Seize Private Property for Businesses Could Create Housing Crisis
A recent 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows local governments to seize private land for the benefit of businesses instead of strictly for public projects is condemned by the black leadership network Project 21. Combined with anti-growth home development restrictions, Project 21 members fear the decision could lead to a urban housing shortage severely affecting minorities, the poor and young families.
"Opposition to the practice of taking private property for business interests brought together the NAACP and Justice Clarence Thomas," noted Project 21 member Mychal Massie. "If even they can agree on the importance of private property protections, it’s utterly astonishing to me that others can so blatantly put so many at risk to favor wealthy private interests."
Eminent domain powers have usually been reserved exclusively for public projects such as road-building, parks and the development of public benefits such as hospitals. In the case of Kelo v. City of New London, however, city officials used their eminent domain power to evict homeowners – some of whom lived in the disputed neighborhood for over 70 years – from 90 acres of land later given to the Pfizer pharmaceutical firm for a research facility. Pfizer then signed a $1 a year lease with the city. In his majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote: "Promoting economic development is a traditional and long-accepted function of government."
In her dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, wrote: "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private property, 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."
In a separate dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas noted the decision would likely result in new urban renewal projects that have historically displaced minorities, the elderly and the poor. Washington, D.C. mayor Anthony Williams – who praised the Court’s decision – is expected to evict small businesses and homeowners later this year to build a new, privately-held baseball stadium.
Linked with anti-development "smart growth" building restrictions, the Kelo decision could create a housing crisis. A 2002 econometric study commissioned by The National Center for Public Policy Research, the parent organization of Project 21, determined that a national application of "smart growth" building restrictions employed in Portland, Oregon throughout the 1990s would have resulted in one million households not being able to own a home during that same period of time – with a quarter of those households being minorities. Poor families and families just entering the housing market would be similarly affected, and rents in general would increase due to demand. The new eminent domain powers endorsed by the Kelo decision could lead to an increased demand for housing in restricted markets, potentially creating a housing crisis.
"Without question, this is the most abusive act of government aided and abetted by the Supreme Court in the history of our republic," added Massie. "The bedrock of a free republic is the ability of its citizens to own property without fear of government seizure or constraint. With this ruling, our citizenry has been rendered vulnerable."
Project 21, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, has been a leading voice in the black community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 543-4110 x11, e-mail Project21@nationalcenter.org or visit Project 21’s website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html. A copy of The National Center housing study can be downloaded by visiting http://nationalcenter.org/Sprawl.html.
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