Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Government Theft Attacked

Once again, demonstrating how the issues of eminent domain and overdevelopment can overlap ideological boundaries, the Supreme Court decision in Kelo is under attack. This time it is Julia Vitullo-Martin of the conservative Manhattan Institute, writing in today’s Daily News. What is particularly interesting about her piece is her underscoring of how New Yorker’s are especially vulnerable to the impact of the Court’s decision.

Vitullo-Martin, citing Martin Anderson’s work, points out that at one time 34% of all land confiscation (under urban renewal) was happening in New York State. In fact, whole swaths of land in East Harlem were part of the City’s program of "slum clearance." It was this destruction of entire neighborhoods that led many to equate urban renewal in NYC with “negro removal.”

The irony here, of course, is that the eminent domain issue links Vitullo-Martin, the conservative scholar, with Norman Siegal who, according to today’s Insider, is planning lawsuits on both Atlantic Yards and Morningside Heights, where Columbia University's expansion is slated.

Court Action, Public Reaction

What Court decisions often do especially when they really go against the popular grain, is to promote a political backlash. Blogger Virginia Postrel astutely illustrates this point:

I agree with Glenn Reynolds, who observes that Kelo may prove analogous to "Bowers v. Hardwick decision, which didn't make new law, but which led to a sea-change in public attitudes." Bowers was the 1986 ruling, also 5-4, that upheld Georgia's criminal statute against private, consensual oral or anal sex. The ruling galvanized efforts to repeal anti-sodomy statutes, to challenge such laws under state constitutions, and, ultimately, to get Hardwick overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.


Kelo, by contrast, isn't about cultural symbolism and largely unenforced law. It's about common practices. American cities quite regularly take property from some private parties to give it to other, usually wealthier ones. Now that practice has the Supreme Court's blessing. Kelo could very well lead to much more aggressive use of eminent domain for "economic development." Bowers was offensive, but Kelo is scary.

That's all the more reason to crank up the grassroots activism ...
Read her whole post here

We’re hopeful that Kelo will inspire the grassroots activity that Postrel talks about. The Castle Coalition, sponsored by the Institute for Justice, is already offering to draft legislation for any interested parties. And, as Vitullo-Martin forcefully points out in the Daily News:

"New Yorkers successfully halted the old urban renewal in the 1970s. Now they must fight to halt the new urban renewal by securing the same protective legislation already enjoyed by four other states whose big cities had had enough.”