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Some residents of Brooklyn felt like Padme in this scene of Star Wars Episode III this past May when four New York appellate judges, according to the New York Daily News, unanimously:
“ruled that Forest City Ratner’s use of eminent domain to take private property to build a new home for the Nets does not violate the state Constitution.”
Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards real estate proposal is described by The New York Times as a
“giant development planned for 22 acres near Brooklyn's downtown that will include 8 million square feet of apartments, offices, stores and an arena for the New Jersey Nets.”
A New York post analysis found that this enormous real estate proposal
“is boosted by so many sweetheart deals that the public stands to pay for more than half the cost of his controversial $4 billion plan…”
Furthermore, The New York Observer noted in February of 2008 that:
“Forest City Ratner paid former U.S. Senator Al D’Amato’s lobbying firm $400,000 in 2006 and 2007 to lobby federal legislators regarding eminent domain and other issues important to the developer of the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn.”
Apparently, Ratner is unhappy that the area he intends to develop is already inhabited by families who do not wish to sell their homes and other properties. Determined, Ratner considers this a surmountable obstacle.
Opposition to the plan has been primarily organized by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB). DDDB is a 501(c)(3) organization devoted to protecting the property rights of the owners of the businesses and homes targeted by Ratner.
Following the unanimous decision by the court that Ratner’s eminent domain maneuver does not violate state law, he stated
“this is really the last hurdle that we have and now we can do what our company does best and build an arena and houses.”
Ratner was mistaken. This past Monday, according to The New York Times, the New York Court of Appeals announced that it
“has agreed to hear a case challenging the state’s use of eminent domain on behalf of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.”
In response, Matthew Brinckerhoff, representing the appellants, declared:
“We are gratified that the State’s High Court will hear this important case about whether our State’s Constitution protects the homes of its citizens from the wrecking ball of greed wielded by influential developers and the public officials who do their bidding.”
The two cornerstones that form the legal foundation for capitalism are the enforcement of contracts and the protection of private property. When either of these fundamental principles is violated the integrity of the free market system is compromised. No doubt, the New York Court of Appeals must rule according to the New York State Constitution and any applicable laws.
But the moral issue at stake is whether the government should be able to forcibly confiscate private homes and businesses from owners who do not wish to sell and then transfer their properties to a new owner.
If the government fails to protect private property when it is politically inconvenient, then it is not a protected right but an inclination occasionally preferred. If the New York Court of Appeals rules in favor of Bruce Ratner, then New Yorkers should lobby to change the law.