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The U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New Londonaffirmed that a city’s promotion of economic development was a legitimate governmental function in a takings context. Certain pundits immediately broadcast that private property rights had just been turned upside down. A casual observer may have assumed that the former Soviet Central Committee had moved to Connecticut and adopted new tactics for world domination through clandestine urban redevelopment projects. However, when all the hyperbole dissipates, Justice John Paul Stevens’ observation that the libertarian arguments advanced by the Institute for Justice on behalf of the property owners were supported by “neither precedent nor logic” was correct. Kelomarked an assuring exercise of judicious temperament. The takings clause is not one of the penumbras of the Constitution, and there was more than sufficient precedent supporting Kelo, including Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion in Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff. Furthermore, the court showed the proper deference to state authorities. Contrary to this, the institute advocated an extreme form of judicial activism and a result that would have hamstrung local authorities in rejuvenating their communities. Attempts to turn back the clock The most troubling feature that has arisen from the Kelodebate is the strident attempt by certain well-funded public policy groups to sacrifice urban redevelopment for a return to 19th century principles of governmental power. As much as we may want to avoid paying taxes or complying with zoning, environmental or other governmental regulations, certain civil intrusions are the community cords that connect us and provide for the public welfare. America over the last 230 years has evolved, becoming more populous, urbanized and commercial. This has necessitated governmental action to facilitate certain commercial activities for the public welfare. Whether it was for agriculture, manufacturing, transportation or mining, governmental authorities have utilized eminent domain to protect their economic interests and avoid piecemeal development. This ensured that the community would be able to secure the benefits of increased employment, revenues and governmental services. Urban redevelopment has been a logical and judicially sanctioned extension of such governmental interests for the last 50 years. The initial response of news organizations and certain elected officials has been inconsistent and knee-jerk at best. Some stories have incorrectly implied a property seizure, as if compensation were not awarded, or have presented contrary positions. There have been editorials bemoaning governmental failures to balance budgets, to provide critical community services, to foster job growth or to plan for future land use (including stemming suburban sprawl), and yet these same editorial boards will attack urban redevelopment efforts where local authorities, as a last resort, will utilize condemnation against a few holdouts who are blocking a community’s revival.
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