Allowing a wealthy developer to take the homes of a neighborhood to profit from condos and a basketball arena under the guise of community development was bad enough. Now New York's top court, the Court of Appeals, is bending for the will of an economic giant and against small businesses that stand in their way. We are talking of course, about the private Columbia University, the largest land owner in Uptown Manhattan versus the few business owners that stand in their way of a major campus expansion.
Instead of upholding the lower court's (correct) ruling that the judiciary must follow the state's lead on what qualifies as blighted, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and allowed the obvious pro-Columbia bias to commence. And of course, their reasoning flew in the face of good common sense and decency.
Thursday's decision from the Court of Appeals said the lower court had ignored evidence that found disinvestment in the area reached back to the 1960s. The ruling also reaffirmed the principle central in last year's Atlantic Yards case, which found that the governor and his appointees should be given wide latitude in determining what is blighted, the first step in justifying seizure under eminent domain. "Not only has this court, but the Supreme Court has consistently held that blight is an elastic concept that does not call for an inflexible, one-size-fits-all definition," Senior Associate Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by five other judges. The court's seventh judge, Associate Judge Robert Smith, wrote a separate opinion in which he concurred, but reluctantly. Smith was also the lone dissenting vote on the Atlantic Yards decision. "The finding of 'blight' in this case seems to me strained and pretextual," Smith wrote. Professor Patricia Salkin of Albany Law School said the decision was not a surprise. She said the ruling was in keeping with years of precedent that grants the government wide latitude in eminent domain cases and corrects the mystifying opinion by the Appellate Division, First Department, in December. "The order of the day here was the Court of Appeals here continuing the message that where there may be just a difference of opinion with respect to what is blighted, that they are going to rely on legislative deference and the court is not going to substitute its judgment,” she said.Legislative deference is a cheap way of shirking the judiciary's responsibility to protect individuals from legislation that does undue harm to the citizenry.
Now Eminent Domain is something to be considered when the government builds or does something beneficial to the entire area, such as a highway, railway or building that serves the community. Despite the Court leaning on the idea that Columbia is a non-profit and since Atlantic Yards was approved, this should be allowed to, the University is an institution that only selects a lucky few thousand every year to attend and utilize their facilities. And of course, entrance comes at an exorbitant price.
Instead of claiming the arguments shown above, the Court should come clean, and admit to what's really behind all this. When push comes to shove, the rich are given deference over those that are not. Campaign donations from those that can afford it are used to unfairly sway those that are elected to serve the people. Ultimately, the judges fall in line and make flimsy excuses for allowing this shameful practice to continue.