Monday, 11 July 2005

Another Berman nobody likes

John Fund has an Opinion Journal piece explaining the unusual marriage of conservatives and minority interest groups who are upset with the Supreme Court’s 5–4 ruling last month in Kelo v. New London:

In 1954 the Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. But that same year it also ruled in Berman v. Parker that government’s power of eminent domain could be used to seize property in order to tear down “blighted” areas.

It soon became clear that too often urban renewal really meant “Negro removal,” as cities increasingly razed stable neighborhoods to benefit powerful interests. That helps explain why 50 years later so many minority groups are furious at the Supreme Court’s decision last month to build on the Berman precedent and give government a green light to take private property that isn’t “blighted” if it can be justified in the name of economic development.

As always, the State of Mississippi (no stranger to “Negro removal”—ask Emmitt Till or Medgar Evers) is front-and-center as an example of eminent domain abuse:

Martin Luther King III, a former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says that “eminent domain should only be used for true public projects, not to take from one private owner to give to another wealthier private owner.” In 2001 he joined with the free-market Institute for Justice (which represented the Kelo plaintiffs) to stop the state of Mississippi from uprooting homeowners to make room for a Nissan truck factory. After he compared the state’s actions to “a giant stepping on a grasshopper,” public opposition to the taking mounted. The state finally announced that Nissan had come up with a way to redesign its facility so that the homeowners wouldn’t have to leave.

Fund’s example might have been slightly strengthened if he knew that the families being uprooted by Nissan were black, in a county rapidly being transformed into lily-white suburbia due to outmigration from Jackson.

Meanwhile, it’s good to see the Clarion-Ledger recognizing what side its bread is buttered on. Quick quiz: one of these things is not like the other; identify it.

But, without eminent domain, there could be no public works: no streets, highways, parks, public lands, city, county, state or federal land and water projects or, more locally and recently, for example, here in Mississippi, no Nissan automotive plant.

Because we all know that car companies can’t afford to buy their own land…

þ: Glenn Reynolds.

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Kelo inconvenience

I don’t have any particular expertise to offer on the Court’s completely and thoroughly icky decision in Kelo v. New London handed down today—for that, see folks like Orin Kerr and the Crescat gang for the legal nuances—but I will note that I’ve finally learned my lesson: never teach a constitutional law course during a semester while the Court is handing down decisions.

I am somewhat reminded of the Nissan plant case here in Mississippi (discussed here); the prevailing feeling at the time was that the Mississippi Supreme Court probably would have found that taking to be unconstitutional. Mind you, the Mississippi Constitution is rather more explicit in stating that “public use” is a justicible question than the Fifth Amendment of the federal constitution.

Also, my armchair psychoanalysis of Justice Kennedy’s recent “leftward” shift is that he really doesn’t want to be nominated for chief justice when (if?) Rehnquist retires. Not that there was much risk of that happening, mind you, but it’s as good an explanation as any.