The Monk forgot to be on the lookout for this column, which he read online in the WSJ earlier this week (my new employer has an online subscription: score!). Anyway, Richard Epstein knows more about the Supreme Court's takings jurisprudence than any of the clerks who helped the majority write their miserable opinion. The link above is to the WSJ piece on Opinion Journal. Here are some excerpts:
To understand why Kelo is truly horrible, it is necessary to look both at Kelo and the constitutional logic of public use requirement. On the former, the declining economic fortunes of New London spurred the city elders to embark on a general urban development plan, underwritten by $73 million in state money devoted to general planning, physical infrastructure and environmental cleanup. The plan lacked only one ingredient--some real live developer prepared to risk his own capital to build any office or hotel on part of the 90 or so acres the city already had.
Not content with its overheated vision, New London's plan envisioned taking down about 15 old homes overlooking Long Island Sound, to be used for some unidentified form of "park support." Fancy new private homes were not listed on the plan. None of the endless frustration and delays in implementing its grand plan were attributable to the decision of some landowners to fight New London. Quite simply, the slow rate of development made obsolete some of the original projects, such as a luxury hotel to support a new nearby Pfizer facility. Pfizer could not wait 10 years to house its visiting dignitaries. One obvious compromise position, therefore, should have appealed even to the five-member majority on the Supreme Court: to force the city to postpone the condemnation of these private homes until the city revealed its hand.
No such luck with Justice Stevens, for in his view New London had made its case when it asserted, without evidence, that the new projects would both increase tax revenues and create new jobs. It hardly mattered that its projections had been pulled out of thin air and were already hopelessly out of date when the case reached the Supreme Court. All that need be shown to Justice Stevens was procedural regularity and some claim that the proposed project served some "public benefit."
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In the present case, Susette Kelo and her fellow plaintiffs have not tried to extract some unconscionable gain out of some sensible business venture. They have no desire to sell their homes at all. At the same time their subjective losses have been enormous. It was a perfectly sensible line for the court to say when subjective values are high, and holdout problems are nonexistent, the requisite public use is not present.
The court could arrive at its shameful Kelo ruling only by refusing to look closely at past precedent and constitutional logic. Courts that refuse to see no evil and hear no evil are blind to the endemic risk of factional politics at all levels of government. And being blind, this bare Supreme Court majority has sustained a scandalous and cruel act for no public purpose at all.