Bad ruling on eminent domain: Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal, 7/10/05

Letter to the Editor

By Dino Paspalakis, Ormond Beach

The words "Equal Justice Under Law," which are written above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building, express the ultimate responsibility of the U.S. Supreme Court. It is the final arbiter of law and is charged with interpreting the Constitution so we will have "Equal Justice Under Law."

Needless to say, I was shocked and disappointed at the Supreme Court's majority decision in Kelo v. New London. A proper interpretation of the Constitution would have caused this court to overrule the 1954 decision Berman v. Parker, or at least to qualify that decision as being an extreme case of "slum" and that the power of eminent domain should be exercised only in urgent cases, such as the conditions which existed at the time when Berman was decided.

Instead, the justices changed the meaning of the Constitution. Thus, the clause "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation" now means that your property can be taken if: (1) The taking is for a public use" (traditionally, a school, a road but now any taking that would pay more "taxes" than you are paying) and (2) you're paid "just compensation." (Theoretically just compensation means fair market value, but many states do not pay homeowners for the attorney fees associated with challenging the government's offer so that the underprivileged commonly receive far less compensation, while other states, by statute, exclude "business damages" from the business owner's compensation so that even if the business owner is capable of challenging the government's offer, he will still end up in a far inferior financial position.)

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said it best when she said in her dissent, "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. . . . As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result."

I guess the words above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building should now state, "Equal Justice Under Law for the Developers and the Wealthy."

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Dino Paspalakis is a Daytona Beach Boardwalk businessman who settled with Boardwalk developer Bill Geary before the local case went to court