Up to now I've had nothing to say about the case of Kelo v. New London. On it's face it would seem to me open and shut in favor of the property owners. But, according to a source at the law firm of Horton, Shields & Cormier in Hartford, Connecticut, Wesley Horton's brief on behalf of New London was very likely to carry the day. That assessment has lead me to be somewhat pessimistic about the homeowners' chances.
This column in Reason leads me to think the outlook may not be so bleak. Jacob Sullum relates these exchanges.
If the prospect of higher tax revenue justifies the forced transfer of property from one owner to another, O'Connor asked, would it be appropriate for a city to decide that a Motel 6 must give way to a Ritz-Carlton?
"Yes, your honor, it would be," replied Wesley Horton, New London's lawyer.
Justice Antonin Scalia sought to clarify the principle guiding the city's use of eminent domain: "Are we saying you can take from A and give to B if B pays more taxes?"
"If they are significantly more," Horton said.
That qualification is comical, since politicians never have trouble predicting whatever benefits are needed to justify taking land on behalf of private developers. Displaced homes and businesses cannot be unbulldozed when the government's estimates prove to be wildly inaccurate.
It's hard for me to imagine that Constitutional guarantees could be subject to arbitrary estimates of dollar value, whether they are estimates of property value or tax revenue. Let's hope the justices agree.