Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
No one is looking for the middle ground in the Supreme Court's controversial ruling that allows the government to seize private property for commercial use. But it is there, in the plain language of the Connecticut laws that helped guide the case and in the language of the majority ruling written by Justice John Paul Stevens.
It is there for state legislators who now may be inundated with calls from angry property-owning constituents. It Is there for people who believe that nine individuals wearing robes in Washington have just pulled off the greatest coup since the Louisiana Purchase. It is there for the money-hungry developers who still may see the ruling as a carte blanche for rapacious commerical real estate deals. The middle ground solution contained in the language of the majority's decision ought to temper all that emotion and block the parade of horribles everyone seems to be predict in its aftermath.
The ruling does change the landscape for local governments and private developers. It does give them more legal support for whatever plans they may have, in Connecticut or anywhere else in the country, to condemn distressed areas in order to create new jobs and raise tax revenues through private development. And these are no small things.
The "takings" clause in the Constitution, which was a literal necessity when incorporated into the document over 200 years ago, has come over the years to justify more than mere taking of property for official government use, like a highway or military base. And this ruling does little to stem the tide of an expansive interpretation of the clause. That's why the Court's right-wing voted in the minority; why the Court's left wing was in the majority, and why Justice Anthony Kennedy, who frequently turns up as a swing vote, swung the ruling the way of more takings for more reasons.
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