The Kaur Eminent Domain Case Revisited

If you are interested in eminent domain, oral arguments in the Kaur case, in the New York Court of Appeals (that state’s highest court) are coming up in June. Kaur is the case in which the New York Appellate Division struck down the plans of Columbia University and the Empire State Development Corporation to take by eminent domain a neighborhood adjacent to Columbia, for the University’s expansion.

But the problem with this project, as found in the blistering opinion of Justice Catterson, writing for the majority of the New York Appellate Division, was that the “blight study” that preceded the formal decision to condemn was a mess. The big problem was that the “blight” was manufactured by Columbia which has acquired a number of buildings in private transactions, and then just let them sit vacant and allowed them to deteriorate. Presto! “Blight.” There was also conflict of interest on the part of the folks who prepared the blight study, as well as improprieties by the government in making available the documents that the property owners thought were necessary to present their case properly.

So not only does this case raise the question of whether this attempt to take some ordinary folks’ land for the benefit on an elite university meets the “public use” limitation of the Fifth Amendment, but also — even if you assume that this is “public use” — whether the decision to condemn was legitimate.

So the oral argument should be fun to watch. It will also be interesting to see whether the folks on the Court of Appeals — including the liberals who are forever preening themselves with regard to how they look out for the “little guy” confronting the power of big government and big business —  will rise to the challenge and confront the internal conflict within their position. So stay tuned on this one.

For a good, more detailed summary, read an article in Reason magazine that reviews this controversy. Go to http://reason.com/archives/2010/05/27/the-blight-stops-here

Follow up. For a video of the oral argument, go to www.inversecondemnation.com

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