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Supreme Court Ruling in Property Case Rewards the Wealthy
"More malls, more corporate privilege, more office space and more wealth for the wealthy!" the Supreme Court shouted with a narrow 5-4 decision on June 23 that goes a long way to reaffirm the right of local officials to seize property from individuals.
While the argument for generating tax revenue is relevantcities need tax revenueat what moral and social expense should it come? The case the Supreme Court was ruling on involved 300 jobs and $3.3 million in annual tax that would be created with the creation of a riverfront hotel, health club and offices in New London, Connecticut.
The neighborhood that will be razed includes small businesses and Victorian-era houses, approximately 115 privately owned properties. The families living in the neighborhood have, in some cases, been there for several generations, including one couple in their 80s who have been in the same house for over 50 years. ("Court: Cities may seize homes for economic development," The Associated Press, 06/23/05)
My problem here isn't so much that a city can have the power to take land to generate revenue. My problem is that our capitalist system rewards those with wealth by giving them ease with which to generate more wealth. With this reward, some argue, comes necessary jobs and development for less-wealthy, working-class people. Certainly this is true, but it's an unbalanced proposition at best, one that requires taking from homeowners to give to the wealthy who then pass what trickles down on to the community through jobs and tax revenue.
And who can promise the revenue will ever be generated? Malls don't always succeed, office spaces sometimes struggle to be filled and a riverfront hotel could be met with financial trouble simply due to bad weather or a downswing in tourism. In the end, there may only be half-developed or failing properties at the cost of peoplešs homes.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in her dissenting opinion, wrote,
"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."
O'Connor recognizes that with money comes political power and itšs the nature of politicians to provide an advantage to those who will "return the favor." It's a sad reality that O'Connor doesn't even flinch from disclosing.
And while the political favors and corporate coddling is certainly a big deal, Justice Clarence Thomas (who I rarely find myself agreeing with) made the most compassionate sense of the situation when he wrote,
"So-called 'urban renewal' programs provide some compensation for the properties they take, but no compensation is possible for the subjective value of these lands to the individuals displaced and the indignity inflicted."
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