Supreme Court Refuses to Curb Government Power to Take Land

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The U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider putting new limits on the government’s power to use eminent domain to take private property for economic development purposes.

The justices on Friday turned away an appeal by Chicago businessman Fred Eychaner. He had asked the court to cut back or overturn a controversial 2005 ruling that said local governments have broad power to take over private property to make way for new development.

Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch said they would have heard the appeal -- one short of the required four. Writing for himself and Gorsuch, Thomas called the 2005 decision a “mistake” that benefits citizens with political influence.

The court as a whole made no comment, rejecting the appeal as part of a list of orders released a day after the justices issued the final rulings of their nine-month term.

Eychaner, the chairman of Newsweb Corp., said Chicago violated the Constitution by taking property he owned in the city’s River West neighborhood and giving it to a nearby chocolate factory. Although a jury awarded Eychaner $7.1 million in compensation, he said officials lacked the constitutional right to seize the property at all.

The Chicago case, like the 2005 Kelo v. New London decision, centered on the Constitution’s takings clause, which requires government agencies to pay compensation when they take over private property “for public use.”

In Kelo, the Supreme Court said government agencies can constitutionally take property as part of an economic development plan -- and even transfer it to another private party -- as long as the landowner gets compensation.

Eychaner said Chicago went too far by citing the risk of “future blight” as reason for taking the land and transferring it to Blommer Chocolate Co.

Chicago says the move was part of a comprehensive development plan designed to revitalize the local economy, protect area businesses and jobs, and prevent blight in a rapidly declining part of the city.

In his three-page opinion, Thomas said Chicago “has decided to use the coercive power of the government to give the company a valuable parcel of not-yet-blighted-land.”

The case is Eychaner v. Chicago, 20-1214.

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