Eminent domain justified: Branson (MO) Daily News, 7/1/05

By Cliff Sain

Branson's city administrator said he does not feel vindicated by a Supreme Court decision last week that cities can use eminent domain to take property for a private business.

The case has relevance in Branson after the city this year paid $12.8 million for property downtown in order to build a city-owned convention center and a privately owned hotel.

The two are expected to open in April 2007. Two of the property owners would not sell, and the city eventually used its power of eminent domain to take the property owners to court and force them to sell.

"I don't think there's anything to feel vindicated about," Dody said. "We were following legal process. Had the Supreme Court ruled differently, we'd have to abide."

The Supreme Court was sharply divided in its 5-4 decision announced on June 23. In a scathing dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the decision bowed to the rich and powerful at the expense of middle-class Americans.

"The specter of condemnation hangs over all property," O'Connor wrote. "Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

Still, legal experts said they didn't expect a rush to claim homes.

"The message of the case to cities is yes, you can use eminent domain, but you better be careful and conduct hearings," said Thomas Merrill, a Columbia law professor specializing in property rights.

Dody agreed, saying the city had no plans to purchase more private property.

"Why would the city do anything differently?" he said.

The closely watched Supreme Court case involved New London, Conn., homeowners.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said New London could pursue private development under the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property if the land is for public use, since the project the city has in mind promises to bring more jobs and revenue.

"Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government," Stevens wrote, adding that local officials are better positioned than federal judges to decide what's best for a community.

Under the ruling, residents still will be entitled to 'just compensation' for their homes as provided under the Fifth Amendment. The decision also specifically said states had the right to implement restrictions of their own.

Branson Daily News: www.bransondailynews.com