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Homeowners Vow to Fight Eminent Domain Ruling
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Homeowners Vow to Fight Eminent Domain Ruling

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Homeowners Vow to Fight Eminent Domain Ruling

Homeowners Vow to Fight Eminent Domain Ruling
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Homeowners are renewing an ongoing fight to keep their property in the wake of a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling that applies the principles of eminent domain — government seizure of property for the public good — to a private development project.

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

The nation's high court ended its term this week. The Supreme Court handed down a number of key rulings that continue to stir up political rancor in Washington, among them a decision upholding a lower court's ruling on eminent domain. The justices voted 5-to-4 to give local governments the ability to seize a person's home or business in order to revitalize the surrounding area. More of than in just a moment.

But, first, the Connecticut case that led to the ruling. NPR's Allison Keyes reports that homeowners are renewing an ongoing fight to keep their property.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

Fifty-year-old Bill Von Winkle enjoys a beautiful view of the river from his New London home. The retired deli owner is angry about the ruling that says the city can take his land.

Mr. BILL VON WINKLE (Homeowner): And I won't be going anywhere. I've been here 21 years. This is really all I have.

KEYES: Von Winkle and his neighbors have fought a bitter battle to keep their homes on the city's Fort Trumbull Peninsula. New London wants to tear down 15 homes scattered across a 90-acre site it intends to develop into office, retail and hotel space. Von Winkle says he can't believe such a thing could happen in America.

Mr. VON WINKLE: How could they possibly take my home?

KEYES: New London officials are applauding the Supreme Court's 5-to-4 ruling that a city's need for increased tax revenue and employment justifies a seizure of property. The opinion also says the city's plans satisfies the constitutional requirement that such seizure be for public use. Tom Londregan, New London's chief counsel, says the ruling is great for urban areas across the country. He says cities must rely on property taxes to support social responsibilities.

Mr. TOM LONDREGAN (Chief Counsel, New London, Connecticut): We want to compete for the retail shopping centers, for the office parks, for the industrial parks. We need eminent domain to acquire large parcels of land so that we can compete economically for these economic engines which drive our communities, which will pay for the social programs we have for the poor and the disadvantaged and for the housing that we supply.

KEYES: Londregan also notes that critics of the ruling are overlooking the legislative and judicial checks and balances the city navigated before the nation's highest court upheld its development plan. Governments have traditionally used eminent domain authority to build roads such as the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago and similar public projects. Cities have also used that power to eliminate blight. Scott Bullock, an attorney at the non-profit Institute for Justice, says governments often use eminent domain to the detriment of people with limited political power.

Mr. SCOTT BULLOCK (Attorney, Institute for Justice): What this really opens up is that every neighborhood is at risk. Even areas that aren't so-called `blighted' neighborhoods can be taken for this. Minorities have oftentimes bore the brunt of abuses of eminent domain in urban renewal in the past. But now this has been expanded even further into working-class neighborhoods, middle-class neighborhoods, and I think you're going to see a lot more people concerned about it.

KEYES: Bullock represents the New London families. He says his firm is planning an initiative that will save homes and businesses across the country. The Supreme Court's ruling emphasizes that nothing in the opinion precludes states from enforcing their own eminent domain laws. Some state statutes are more strict than the federal interpretation. New London homeowner Bill Von Winkle says he'll keep fighting and warning other homeowners.

Mr. VON WINKLE: The knock on their door could be next.

KEYES: Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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