“Rich Bully” Lee Bollinger “is Getting His Way”

The takings clause reads “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” When Kelo v. City of New London upheld the power of takings for economic development, many used the political backlash to that decision as a vindication of “judicial restraint.” See, we were told, this sort of dispute should be left to the political sphere. Now, as Glenn Reynolds notes in his New York Post column, Columbia University has succeeded in its quest to take two businesses to incorporate their land into the university’s footprint:

[T]his week, . . . the last legal barrier (a possible US Supreme Court review) to Columbia University’s efforts to condemn and seize two businesses — Tuck-it-Away Self-Storage and a gas station owned by Gurnam Singh and Parminder Kaur in West Harlem — vanished.

Columbia said the condemnation was necessary to support the university’s “vision” for a new campus; school President Lee Bollinger called the victory “a very important moment in the history of the university.”

It was an important, if not especially proud, moment for Columbia — but it was surely a bigger moment in the lives of those West Harlem business owners, as their property gets taken away to promote the “vision” of what is, in fact, a multibillion-dollar corporation servicing the daughters and sons of the wealthy, the powerful and the connected.

Traditionally, the “public-domain” power was used to acquire property needed for things like roads and bridges. It’s still often defended in those terms, but the “public use” required for such takings has now been interpreted by courts to include pretty much anything the government wants to do with the property — including handing it over to someone else who just happens to be wealthier or better-connected than the original property holder.

So, once again, the constraints on government power, here an “express prohibition” in the Bill of Rights no less, provided by Constitution are weakened or removed, and become part of the “lost Constitution.” The Constitution is the law that governs those who govern us. Those who are governed by the Constitution should not be able to change the laws by which they govern. And yet that is exactly what they continue to do. Hooray for judicial restraint!

[Blog post modified after receiving feedback from Ilya Somin.]

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