Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Eminently Qualified?

The controversy surrounding the nomination of Judge Sonya Sotomayor has focused on some of her remarks made out of court-as well as her decision in the New Haven firefighter case. But there's another issue that's more germane to many people in NYC; the use and abuse of eminent domain, and the SC's Kelo decision.

As the NY Times reported a few days ago: "Judge Sonia Sotomayor will doubtless be questioned about Kelo at her confirmation hearings next month. But her answers will be complicated by her participation in a 2006 decision applying and extending Kelo. Bart Didden, the property owner on the losing side of that decision, Didden v. Village of Port Chester, said in an interview that he had been contacted by aides to Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who seemed eager to explore Judge Sotomayor’s views on property rights."

Now the Portchester case is something that we know a little about, since we represented a plastics manufacturer who-after moving his business to the Port Chester renewal area at the behest of the town's local development corporation-was told that his property would be condemned to make way for a redevelopment scheme. The irony here, at least as it pertains to Sotomoyar as the "Wise Latina," is that the plastics factory was wall to wall Latino-something which the diverse-adverse village didn't like all that much.

But the factory owner, unlike Didden, didn't want to fight-and sold his plant to Mexican firm; but the Didden case-and Stomayor's decision-is grist for the Judiciary Committee's mill: "The ruling in Didden is not popular among some property rights and constitutional law professors. Eight of them filed a brief in 2006 unsuccessfully urging the Supreme Court to hear an appeal. “This is the worst federal court takings decision since Kelo,” said Ilya Somin, who teaches property law at George Mason University and helped write the brief. “It’s very extreme, and it is significant as a window into Judge Sotomayor’s attitudes toward private property.”

But, of course, we have our own ED issues here in NYC that would benefit from a little disinfecting sunlight; and our friends at Willets Point are right there in the forefront. The Willets Point United group, with its capable attorney Michael Rikon, are challenging the city's efforts to remove them from their properties.

The key issue here-and the one that the senate should be questioning Stotomayor on-is when is a public use not a public use. Bart Didden certainly has some ideas on this:

"The case arose from a meeting in 2003 between Mr. Didden, who owned property in Port Chester, N.Y., and an executive of a company that had been designated by the village to develop a 27-acre urban renewal area that included part of the property. What happened at that meeting, Mr. Didden said, amounted to extortion. Mr. Didden had made arrangements to put a CVS drug store on his lot. At the meeting, the executive, Gregg Wasser, demanded $800,000 as the price for permission to proceed with that project, Mr. Didden said in court papers. The alternative, Mr. Wasser said, according to the papers, was to have the village condemn Mr. Didden’s property so that Mr. Wasser’s company could put a Walgreen’s in the same place. “Here is a private person standing in the shoes of the government with the power to condemn or not condemn,” Mr. Didden said. “The $800,000 wasn’t going to rehabilitate a public park or build a soccer stadium. It was going into his pocket.”

We hope that the senate probes this issue thoroughly. There's a great deal at stake.