Eminent Domain Case A Watershed, Opponents Agree: Arkansas News (Little Rock AK), 4/21/06

By Doug Thompson

A property condemnation case from Connecticut has become a surprising watershed in efforts to "curb judicial activism," conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly said Thursday.

Elliot Mincberg, legal director for People for the American Way, agreed Thursday the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo vs. New London has had a surprising and largely negative impact on citizens' view of the judicial system. People for the American Way is a non-profit group that opposes efforts by Schlafly and other conservative to gain more appointments of conservative judges or bar courts from hearing certain cases.

The Supreme Court's ruling in the Kelo case upheld a state court decision the city of New London could condemn property, including private homes, to make way for commercial development. The June 23 ruling divided the court in a 5-4 vote.

Schlafly came to Rogers on Thursday to speak at an issues forum of the Eagle Forum, held at 6:30 p.m. in the Pinnacle Country Club. The Eagle Forum is a conservative grassroots group founded by Schlafly in 1972. About 100 people attended the forum, which could become an annual event, according to Arkansas Eagle Forum executive director Peggy Jeffries of Fort Smith. The Arkansas chapter has held meetings on an as-needed basis since it was formed in 1977 and has never gone a year without an issues forum, Jeffries said, but is considering more regular meetings.

"I've fought the mischief of activist judges for more than 20 years, including judges who ban the pledge of allegiance and display of the Ten Commandments," Schlafly said in an interview before Thursday's meeting. She said those issue are vital concerns to most citizens, but often resulted in resolutions passed by Congress "which did nothing."

The Kelo decision, however, is having a lasting effect, convincing many doubters courts have gone too far, Schlafly said. She said she didn't expect an eminent domain case to have such a deep resonance, but is glad it does.

Mincberg said Schlafly's description of the Kelo case's effect was accurate, and that was particularly surprising "considering that the court was upholding a local legislative decision" to condemn the property. "I think it's still too early to see how this will shake out, though," Mincberg said. "Much of it appears to be resulting in action in state legislative bodies that are concerned with powers in state constitutions, and on the decisions of local zoning commissions. However, there's a good deal of anger and concern."

"It's ironic that Schlafly and others complain about courts overruling local decisions, and here we have a case where the court did exactly what they say they want: Upheld local authorities," Mincberg said. "They want judicial activism. They just want activist judges that will do their bidding."

In other issues, Schlafly said in an interview that immigration policy has brought about a clash between conservatives and the Republican Party's campaign donors. "What happened is that conservatives are demanding a bill to secure our borders," she said. "The House passed a bill because of that," a tough immigration bill that 88 percent of the Republican members of the House support.

The bill stalled in the Senate, and conservatives are "mad as hops" about it, Schlafly said: "Follow the money. The people who give contributions want money. Look at H-1B visas," visas that allow high-tech companies to bring in foreign nationals if there is a shortage of skilled labor in a particular field. "There's no shortage of engineers and computer specialists in this country. There are 100,000 to 200,000 people in those professions who are unemployed or under-employed. The visas keep getting granted so companies can pay immigrants half price."

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