The Supreme Court, given a chance to revisit a heavily criticized ruling, refused Monday to reconsider its decision giving local governments more power to seize people’s homes for economic development.
So contentious was the court’s 5-4 ruling in the so-called eminent domain case earlier this year that some critics launched a campaign to seize Justice David Souter’s farmhouse in New Hampshire to build a luxury hotel. Others singled out Justice Stephen Breyer’s vacation home in the same state for use as a park.
Both Souter and Breyer voted on the prevailing side. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who did not, sharply criticized her colleagues at the time. She said in a minority opinion that the ruling favored the well-heeled over the less fortunate.
In addition, legislators in some 25 states are considering changing their eminent domain laws to soften the impact.
Justices did not comment Monday in refusing to reconsider the case, which had been expected because requests for a reconsideration of rulings are rarely granted.
‘Not surprised,’ homeowner says
“I’m not surprised,” said homeowner Matthew Dery, whose family has lived in the affected Connecticut neighborhood for more than 100 years. “It’s even rarer than a blue moon that they do reconsider.”
Dery is hoping that state lawmakers will retroactively change the eminent domain law so that he does not have to move.
O’Connor, whose decision to retire created the opening that appeals court judge and former Washington lawyer John Roberts now seeks to fill, wrote in her angry dissent in June that “the specter of condemnation hangs over all property.”
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion and defended it last week in a speech in Las Vegas. The ruling was legally correct, he said, because the high court has “always allowed local policy-makers wide latitude in determining how best to achieve legitimate public goals.”
A justice's concerns
But Stevens said he had concerns about the results.
“My own view is that the allocation of economic resources that result from the free play of market forces is more likely to produce acceptable results in the long run than the best-intentioned plans of public officials,” Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association.
Legal experts had said they did not expect the court’s ruling, involving an economic development project in New London, Conn., to prompt a rush to claim homes.
Stevens said that “the public outcry that greeted (the ruling) is some evidence that the political process is up to the task of addressing such policy concerns.”
The case is Kelo v. City of New London, 04-108.