Court Rules You’re Gonna Like It!
By Ian Murphy
used to have this recurring nightmare in which my neighbors and I were enjoying
a summer evening block party, when all of a sudden a lone and menacing cloud
appeared over the horizon, growing larger, darker and more ominous with every
breath. The sky grew pitch black, and fear gripped the crowd. Then, from within
the evil cloud, there emerged the recognizable broad grin, bright eyes and
coarse laugh lines of a benevolent Jerry Van Dyke.
that the guy from ‘Coach?’ ” someone shouted, and fears quickly subsided as
we all remembered that time when Luther convinced Dobber to eat Craig T. Nelson’s
Just as quickly
as our smiles returned, however, the cloud materialized into an enormous flesh
and blood Van Dyke, hell-bent on chaos and destruction. The inexplicably gargantuan
beloved TV personality ran amok, kicking over tables of potato salad and hot
dogs, crushing cars and house pets with each thunderous step. People scurried
in all directions as Van Dyke set to demolishing homes, smashing brick walls
with his bare hands. Gas lines broke and ignited, filling the air with soot
from burning trees and drywall as my neighbors and I huddled together behind
a roof that the giant Van Dyke had thrown the length of a football field.
We all trembled with fear as his footsteps neared, shaking the very earth
beneath us. Van Dyke’s trademark grin appeared overhead as he threw a pile
of money at us and boomed in his familiar stuttering cadence, “LEAVE NOW AND
NE-NEVER COME B-BACK! THIS IS BIG LOTS TE-TE-TERRITORY NOW, BITCHES! AND REMEMBER
TO SAVE BIG AT BIG LOTS!”
About then I
would bolt out of bed, sweating badly and, occasionally, damp with urine.
Frantically, I’d fumble in the darkness for my bed lamp, don my spectacles
and thumb through my old 4th grade social studies book, which I
kept under the bed for such occasions, to calm my soul.
The Constitution, we the people, yada, yada, yada, ah, here we go—the Fifth
Amendment: “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without
Phew! My relief
was palpable. Big Lots isn’t public, I’d reassure myself; it’s a privately
owed company. The framers meant roads and bridges and stuff, maybe a hydroelectric
dam or something. I would close my trusty social studies book and sleep well
through the night, comforted by the knowledge that a humungous, supernatural
Jerry Van Dyke, at the behest of private industry, couldn’t simply level my
house to put up a big box retailer.
But sadly, my
friends, my nightmare has become all too true, for all of us.
Well, not the
part about Jerry Van Dyke.
In a 5 to 4
decision, The Supreme Court ruled on June 23rd, that local governments
now have the unquestioned authority to seize whoever’s property they want
and likewise do with it whatever they please. We’re not talking about subway
systems and hospitals; we are talking about Subway restaurants and Holiday
Paul Stevens, in the court’s majority opinion, cited “new jobs and increased
tax revenue” as qualification enough for clearly private projects to be considered
ones of “public use” under the Fifth Amendment.
The case, Kelo
et. al. v. City of New London, dealt with a Connecticut city’s authority to
exercise the power of eminent domain over 15 houses on 90 acres of waterfront
property to make way for office complexes, upscale housing, and a marina that
the city wants built near a $300 million Pfizer research center, currently
Those in agreement
with this decision think Pfizer’s “public use” to be more than just giving
old men boners; some economists are calling it “money.”
Couple the ramifications
of this decision with the substantial state and federal subsidies used to
entice businesses to come to cities ($67 million for a fucking bait shop?)
and what you potentially get is people paying taxes so the city can afford
the cost of demolishing their homes and paying them a “just compensation.”
might not be bad if you live in a diamond mine, but where property seizures
like this are going to occur will be the poorest communities, where local
governments can “save big” with slumped property values and ensure large returns
through consumption-based taxes, which large retailers, office complexes and
sports stadiums would provide. If you think that cash is going to “trickle
down” in this environment of manufacturer outsourcing, you are a fucking idiot
and you should be shot in the face with a tazer gun.
It’s a bizarre
decision, made even more bizarre by the fact that the most liberal justices
on the Court voted with the majority. Typical Court villains like Scalia,
Thomas and Rehnquist voted against the decision, in a rare exercise of true
conservative values. Conversely, Justices we have come to appreciate, like
Ginsburg, Breyer, and Souter have sided with the oligarchs, and given ammunition
to the right’s paranoid attacks on the judiciary.
The new rule
is likely to have a significant impact here in Buffalo, home of the silver
bullet mega-project. With obviously corrupt leadership, CEO-stacked control
boards, and a near-obsessive compulsion for tax-subsidized mega-projects,
there should be little doubt that the same politicians and developers who
have held sway for years won’t hesitate to take advantage of this new ruling,
and abuse it as long as it remains profitable. If you think crooks like Masiello,
Giambra, or Pataki would even think twice before bulldozing your house to
curry favor with rich donors, well, you know, the tazer thing I said before.
Shit, for fifty bucks Pataki would drive the damn bulldozer himself, and you’d
be lucky if you made it outside before the roof fell in.
This isn’t just
about a monstrous Jerry Van Dyke violently clearing away city blocks to make
way for Big Lots. It is about state control of private property and state
power to override individual rights in order to facilitate a corporation’s
ability to amass capital at the expense of the poor and powerless. They used
to call that fascism.