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The Supreme Court on Tuesday added eight new cases to its docket, including a major land use dispute that could make it more difficult for government to take private property by eminent domain for economic development purposes. The case, Kelo v. City of New London, challenges a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling that upheld the taking of several nonblighted homes for commercial development in connection with a new Pfizer Inc. research facility. Property rights groups say the tactic is increasingly being used nationwide by municipalities in search of more tax revenue. Also on Tuesday, the Court announced the end of one of its least understood traditions: the practice of not identifying the justices who ask questions during oral argument in its official transcripts. Since 1968, the transcripts have used the word “Question” rather than the justice’s name in the transcripts, leaving historians and journalists scratching their heads unless they had witnessed and carefully annotated the arguments themselves. When asked about it, justices have informally offered two explanations for the hoary tradition. The first, more policy-oriented one was that the Court meant to convey that questions are asked on behalf of the entire institution rather than individual justices. The second, possibly more accurate explanation has been that the practice was intended to shield justices from the disapproval of posterity if they asked dumb or silly questions. Whatever the rationale, the Court announced the end of the policy on Tuesday. When the Court’s fall term begins next Monday, the Court’s official transcriber, Alderson Reporting Service, will include justices’ names “in the interest of the accuracy and completeness of the transcripts for reporting, research and archival purposes,” a statement from the Court’s Public Information Office said. The Connecticut case is the Court’s first major look in 20 years at the Fifth Amendment’s restriction on the power of eminent domain, which bars the taking of private property unless it is for “public use” and is justly compensated. Traditionally used to make way for roads and the redevelopment of blighted areas, the power has expanded, in the view of critics, to the unconstitutional practice of taking nonblighted private property and transferring it to other, higher-value developers for private, not public, use. The city of New London argues that its economic development plan that resulted in the taking at issue is a public use and deserves deference from the courts. “The record is clear that New London was a city desperate for economic rejuvenation,” says Wesley Horton of Horton, Shields & Knox in Hartford on behalf of New London. Having lost jobs and population in the 1990s, the city viewed the Pfizer project as the touchstone for larger commercial, retail and hotel development along the Thames River, creating jobs as well as tax revenue. “If jobs and taxes can be a justification for taking someone’s home or business, then no property in America is safe,” counters Dana Berliner, senior attorney for Institute for Justice, which helped homeowner Susette Kelo and other residents challenge the taking. The high court met privately for its “long conference” Monday to sift through the more than 1,900 petitions that have been filed during its summer recess. It took no action on several other closely watched cases, including establishment clause disputes over Ten Commandment displays and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act. Another case the Court did agree to hear involves a dispute between famed Los Angeles lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. and a former client, Ulysses Tory. After a disagreement led Cochran to withdraw as Tory’s lawyer in a civil rights case, Tory began picketing Cochran’s office with protest signs, including one that read, “Johnnie is a crook, a liar and a thief.” Cochran successfully sued Tory for libel. But instead of assessing damages against Tory, the court in 2002 issued a permanent injunction barring Tory and his wife from displaying or speaking any statements about Cochran. The California Court of Appeal upheld the injunction, triggering the Supreme Court petition. “If someone defamed you, you can award damages, but you can’t stop speech,” says Duke University School of Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, who represented Tory in the appeal. The justices also added another in a long series of Americans with Disabilities Act cases to its docket, this one dealing with whether the law’s provisions apply to foreign-flag cruise ships that dock in U.S. ports. In the case, Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line, a group of disabled passengers sued the cruise operator for providing inadequate access to ship facilities and charging extra for wheelchair-accessible rooms. Norwegian Cruise Line, noting that the ADA is silent on the application of the law to foreign ships, says it is immune under international law.

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