6/24/2005

The US Supreme Court Misses Historic Moment: Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn, 6/23/05

Press release

Develop Don’t Destroy Urges Albany to Curb Eminent Domain Abuse

Today the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in Kelo v. City of New London, deferring to the City of New London’s determination that the destruction of homes in a working class neighborhood in order to build a commercial development is not unconstitutional. The decision stands in sharp contrast to the unprecedented public outrage over eminent domain abuse across the U.S. Nevertheless, the decision will do little to dim civil rights advocates' efforts to curb the actions of developers–and their sponsoring state and municipal agencies–who intend on making the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment a dead letter.

"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," Justice O'Connor wrote in the dissenting opinion. "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

O'Connor's words should strike fear in the hearts of all citizens around the United States.

"Justice O'Connor is absolutely correct, and the Ratner project's use of eminent domain is a poster child for what she describes," said Daniel Goldstein, spokesperson for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn. "Today the Court has kept and reaffirmed the status quo, but in a severely split decision. The Court has made a federalist decision, which means it is now Albany's responsibility to curb and restrict New York's abusive eminent domain laws; here in Brooklyn and all over the state where private corporate powers are benefitting off the backs of everyday citizens."

In December 2004, Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) was one of 25 organizations that filed amici curiae briefs in support of the homeowners in Kelo. The briefs represented an extraordinary expression of solidarity among the disparate groups, cutting across racial, political, and social lines. The briefs in support of the City of New London, in contrast, were predictably filed in large part by developers and municipal agencies. To legal observers, the overwhelming public support for the homeowners and recent state court decisions reining in eminent domain abuse signaled a sea change, which the Supreme Court would likely acknowledge in its decision. Regrettably, the Court failed to seize the historic moment and tamely deferred to the City of New London’s determination that an increase in tax revenues justifies the destruction of homes.

Despite the ruling, Bruce Ratner’s plans to build a high-rise and arena complex in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn still contemplate an illegal and unnecessary use of eminent domain to force tenants, homeowners, and businesses from the footprint. DDDB spokesperson Daniel Goldstein said, "If Ratner uses eminent domain, it will be up to him to make the case that the neighborhood is blighted, which it patently is not, or the project makes economic sense, which is pure fantasy. We will pursue all legal channels available to us, and we are confident that a court of law will see the project for the boondoggle that it is." Indeed, Goldstein sat on a panel on Kelo held at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York on June 8 where even pro-eminent domain panelists were deeply disturbed by the Ratner project’s reliance on eminent domain.

DDDB calls on Albany to follow the lead of states like Utah, whose Governor on March 17 signed into law a bill effectively banning the use of eminent domain for economic development. As DDDB’s retained counsel Norman Siegel said, "So long as the Supreme Court will defer to the states, it is up to our legislators to take up the challenge in putting an end to egregious eminent domain abuse."


Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn: http://developdontdestroy.org