- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005


The Supreme Court, given a chance to revisit a heavily criticized ruling, refused yesterday to reconsider its decision giving local governments more power to seize people’s homes for economic development.

“I’m not surprised,” said Matthew Dery, whose family participated in the unsuccessful lawsuit challenging a Connecticut city’s plan to take homes for a private economic-development project. “It’s even rarer than a blue moon that they do reconsider.”

Mr. Dery is hoping state lawmakers will retroactively change the eminent-domain law so he does not have to move from the New London home that his family has had for more than 100 years.

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 H. Souter’s farmhouse in New Hampshire to build a luxury hotel. Others singled out Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s vacation home in the same state for use as a park.

Both Justices 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.

Legislators in about 25 states are considering changing their eminent-domain laws to soften the impact.

The justices did not comment yesterday in refusing to reconsider the case, which had been expected because requests for a reconsideration of rulings are rarely granted.

Justice O’Connor, whose decision to retire created the opening that appeals court judge and former Washington lawyer John G. Roberts Jr. has been nominated 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.”

But Justice 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,” Justice Stevens told the Clark County Bar Association.

Legal experts had said they do not expect the court’s ruling, involving an economic-development project in New London, to prompt a rush to claim homes.

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