Supreme Court does wrong again, says eminent domain to help a private developer is OK

The United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of eminent domain in a Columbia University (a private, very powerful NYC institution) case. Initially, the private property owner had won (“SOMEONE BEATS CITY HALL: NYC loses eminent domain case,” December 9, 2009). Then, the stooges on the New York State Court of Appeals reversed this and ruled for Columbia (“NYS’s highest court rules for eminent domain abuse, against property owners,” June 26, 2010). The United States Supreme Court now has denied an appeal request.

The Supreme Court had an opportunity to overturn the disastrous case of Kelo v. New London (2005), where a private property owner lost out to a private developer–and the developer then walked away from the project. The Supreme Court is consistent in regards to eminent domain–unfortunately, the Court is consistently wrong.

No one doubts that eminent domain is necessary for a government to build necessary roads, bridges and tunnels. Eminent domain is abused when it helps a private developer acquire cheap land to buils a sports stadium, or a shopping mall, or to help a university expand. The flawed theory is that there is a “public benefit” in taking land from the politically weak and giving it to the politically strong, because they’re naturally better citizens. It goes against the basic American principles of life, liberty and property.

From the New York Times:

December 13, 2010, 5:23 pm
Columbia Wins Fight for West Harlem Campus
Nick Sprayregen’s six-year battle to stop the state from taking his buildings in West Harlem on behalf of Columbia University’s expansion apparently came to an end on Monday, when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled earlier this year that the state could use eminent domain to take property for Columbia University’s planned 17-acre adjunct campus, which would include 17 buildings for science, business and arts education and faculty housing north of 125th Street, near the Hudson River.

Mr. Sprayregen, who estimates he has spent more than $1.5 million since 2004 trying to hold onto his property, a group of buildings housing a self-storage business, had hoped to challenge the New York court’s decision that condemnation served a public purpose.

A comment:

December 13, 2010
11:24 pm
Inwood and Washington Heights should be very afraid indeed. The bottom line, is that you don’t really own anything. You just pretend to, until the big boys decide to take it off your hands and pay you whatever bargain basement prices their own consultants cook up and tell you its worth.

It sure seems that way.

Another comment:

December 13, 2010
6:03 pm
This is not greatness on the part of Columbia University, this is criminal, notwithstanding any monetary compensation that might be paid to the owner of the property.

It is outright theft to use the power of the state to take this property from its private owner, Nick Sprayregen, and give it to another private person, Columbia University, notwithstanding the involvement of quasi-governmental entities.

The Appellate Division, First Department, correctly decided this case against Columbia. The Court of Appeals shamefully bowed to political influence and favored Columbia. As for the U.S. Supreme Court, another great disappointment. But read Justice O’Connor’s dissent in Kelo v. City of New London: a law that takes property from A and gives it to B is against all reason and justice.

The whole New York process was corrupt from the outset. The Empire State Development Corp. needed to make a determination of “blight.” One owner had a storage business and another had a gas station. They’re private businesses–they make money and pay taxes. These weren’t abandoned properties. yet the on-the-take state agency called all of the land “blight.” The original, lower court correctly wrote that New York’s eminent domain process was highly flawed and of dubious legality, approaching theft.

Not a peep from any of New York’s corrupt politicians, from Mayor Bloomberg on down.

HYPOTHETICAL: Let’s say that the land didn’t have a storage company and a gas station. Let’s say it had a mosque. Do you think any government anywhere would declare a mosque to be “blight”? Of course not. This is all about politics and taking from the politically weak.

Here are some comments from the New York Post’s story:

12/14/2010 12:10 AM
This is astonishing to me.

12/13/2010 11:35 PM
How can a private university use eminent domain to steal land constitutionally? No wonder the people of West Harlem have a significant dislike for Columbia and the arrogance that exists there. Incredible… they should teach this case in Constitutional Law…

12/13/2010 11:27 PM
worse….not only can the government confiscate your property, a private institution can take it now….

See Nick Sprayregen’s piece in the December 8th Huffington Post: “Highway Robbery in the 21st Century.”

From Common Sense with Paul Jacob:

Sad Ending to a Vexing Tale
Officials of and lawyers for Columbia University must be chortling in ecstatic gloat. They’ve gotten away with something very much like theft.

But it’s all above-board and legal, thanks to the Supreme Court, which would not hear the case of property owner Nick Sprayregen, from whom Columbia aims to take property. Sprayregen doesn’t want to sell, as he makes quite clear in something he wrote a few days ago for The Huffington Post.

Yup, this is another travesty of “eminent domain.”

Actually, I’ve written about this case before. Two years ago I called your attention to some of what was going on, calling it a scam: “Columbia has acquired many buildings in the neighborhood, but is not maintaining them. Because of Columbia’s own run-down buildings, the state has formally declared the neighborhood to be ‘blighted.’ If the entire area is now condemned, full ownership can be transferred to Columbia.” In 2009, Damon Root wrote in the New York Post more extensively about Columbia’s tricky maneuvers.

From Reason.com:

“This is truly a dark day for all Americans who care about the sanctity of private property rights.”

Damon W. Root | December 13, 2010

Thanks a lot, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. You two really changed things. NOT!

What a country. You own your property until someone else wants it. Your body can be groped by a complete stranger. Your “free” speech can be censored if it offends Al Sharpton.

Didn’t we used to have a Constitution?