We have another outrageous case involving the government using eminent domain to take property from one private citizen to give to another. This case comes from New York where the Court of Appeals has upheld the right of the Empire State Development Company to seize the Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage building in Manhattanville and give it to Columbia University. It is part of the troubling legacy of the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision.
While many (including myself) have denounced Kelo and this use of eminent domain, New York appears to be using the power with little hesitation given earlier cases. The New York courts have followed the lead of the Supreme Court in prior opinions. I previously testified in Congress against the Kelo decision and its claimed constitutional basis.
In this case, the government previously lost in its effort to use eminent domain based on a highly suspect “blight” allegation. Many heralded that decision, now overturned, as a victory for property owners.
Columbia University could not buy four warehouses and two gas stations so it used its clout with powerful local politicians to use eminent domain. It is part of a $6.3 billion project to develop 17 acres in Manhattanville. The vote of the Court of Appeals was unanimous.
What is troubling is the claim of “blight.” Often cities use blight as a justification for this extraordinary power. However, this case shows how any area can be simply deemed blighted to justify a land grab for powerful interests. It turns out that the ESDC hired a company to conduct the blight study that happened to be a contractor for Columbia.
The continued abuse of eminent domain in this fashion is the natural result of the Kelo decision. Ironically, that abuse by New London, Connecticut ultimately led to little benefit for the city when Pfizer pulled out. New York needs to pass a prohibition on the use of eminent domain to effectively transfer property from one private citizen or company or another.
Source: NY Times