Monday, December 06, 2010

Courting Justice

It's coming down to the wire for our good friend Nick Sprayregen-and on Friday the US Supreme Court will hear arguments on his request that the court hear his eminent domain case. If you remember back earlier in the year, Sprayregen had a short lived euphoria when the Appellate Court ruled in his favor that the actions of Columbia University and the ESDC violated his property rights.

The Court of Appeals doused this brief fling with fairness-and by doing so, underscored that under NY State law, there are no protections for any one's property rights. This is something that the Supreme Court could-and should-rectify. The Institute for Justice has the story: "On Friday, December 10, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to decide whether to take Nick Sprayregen’s appeal and protect his family’s property. You have probably never heard of Nick Sprayregen, but his legal challenge has the potential to impact the lives of ordinary Americans more than most cases seeking U.S. Supreme Court consideration. It is exactly because he is such an ordinary American that his experience should be taken to heart, because unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes some specific action on his behalf and stops the actions of a politically powerful private interest, the fate of his family business could be the fate of your home, your family business or any other property you and your family own."

And the key issue, of course, is whether the state can abscond with your property in order to convey it to another private individual: "Even though Nick worked hard his whole life, he now stands to lose what is rightfully his because of government’s use of eminent domain for someone else’s private gain. The politicians and judges in New York, where he lives, have turned their backs on his constitutional rights. Now, the fate of his property and his family’s future lies in the hands of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. If they do not take his case and reject their infamous Kelo ruling from five years ago, Nick Sprayregen will be the latest American to lose his private property and constitutional rights, but he won’t be the last."

As the IJ dramatizes, Nick's case is a cry for the kind of judicial engagement that George Will writes so eloquently about-one that will check the unbridled legislative authority to re-interpret the constitution and, by doing so, relegating property rights to the ash can of American history: "Chip Mellor, president and general counsel for the Institute for Justice, which represented the homeowners in the Kelo case, said, “The U.S. Supreme Court needs to take up this case and demonstrate by example that judges must step up and fulfill their constitutional obligation to act as a check on abuses of our rights by the executive and legislative branches when those branches overstep their bounds. Eminent domain abuse is the poster child calling out for this kind of judicial engagement to replace the judicial ‘restraint’ that won’t allow judges to question the actions of the other branches of government."

Make no mistake about it, the government has entered into collusion with Columbia University so that Sprayregen is at the university's mercy-and in doing so, NY State has obliterated the line between public benefit and public use: "Dana Berliner, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, said, “Eminent domain is supposed to be for public uses, projects the public will own and use, such as a road or a post office. Eminent domain is not for private institutions like Columbia to expand their profit-making efforts, yet that is what it is being used for in the Sprayregen case.”Berliner said, “Keep in mind, without employing the government helping Columbia to take Sprayregen’s land, Columbia would be powerless to do anything but privately negotiate with him. The most common example of eminent domain abuse is when the government rents out its power of eminent domain to fulfill the wishes of private institutions like Columbia. The Supreme Court should step in and stop this travesty.”

Let's hope that it does. Kelo was a poorly reasoned decision that gave carte blanche to legislatures unsympathetic to property rights. Now the court has the opportunity-seeing how this perversion acts with all of its clarity in the Sprayregen case-to redress the wrongs of Kelo. Let’s hope that it does just that-something we will know in one week's time.