In reference to Eminent Domain Ruling, June 24, 2005.

…But Thursday’s Supreme Court decision doesn’t mean that every city will decide to take private property from homeowners and transfer it to developers for public use in every situation.

Neil Richards, associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, pointed out that the court spent a lot of time reviewing the proposed development project in New London, and that the decision really means that states have the power to decide for themselves, not necessarily that they will engage in eminent domain activities.

Richards, who teaches constitutional law, privacy law, property and legal history, pointed out an important line in the majority court opinion that says states are free to pass laws saying cities cannot take individuals’ private property.

People who are worried about the possible broad implications for property rights resulting from this case should lobby for state laws to prohibit this, Richards suggests.

The question of whether the court’s decision undermines individual fifth-amendment property rights is tough to answer and depends on a person’s views on where property rights came from, Richards said. “If you believe that property rights are a creation of government, then no,” he said, the decision would not undermine those rights. But a person who believes property rights are a natural human right would feel the opposite.

“I found this to be a very difficult case,” he said. “On the one hand, property rights are important and entitled to significant protection for good reason. On the other hand, what the city was trying to do here seems like a laudable goal.”

It will be interesting to see how the decision plays out in the lower courts, Richards said.

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