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Justices Affirm Property Seizures

The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the city's plan, so the homeowners, represented by lawyers from the libertarian Institute for Justice, appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to the institute, the New London plan, which the City Council approved in 2000, is typical of "eminent domain abuse," which has spawned more than 10,000 threatened or filed condemnations involving a transfer of property from one private party to another in 41 states between 1998 and 2002.

Scott Bullock, a lawyer for the institute, said that the only recourse for property owners facing condemnation under eminent domain would be to sue in state court based on the property rights provisions of each state's constitution.

New London City Manager Richard M. Brown said he was "very pleased" by the court's decision. He said the city hopes to restart its redevelopment plan, which has lost money so far, partly because of the litigation.

In the disputed neighborhood, known as Fort Trumbull, most residents sold out and their homes were demolished. The site is now a flat expanse of dusty, rock-strewn soil dotted by the few remaining houses. Signs advertising the development site are withered and torn; builders who once considered projects have moved on, deterred by the controversy.

Stevens was joined in the majority by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

Kennedy's vote was something of a surprise because he had expressed strong sympathy for property-rights claims in past cases. But in a brief concurring opinion he explained that the New London plan showed no sign of improper favoritism toward any one private developer.

O'Connor was joined in her dissent by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. They wrote that the majority had tilted in favor of those with "disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."

And in a separate dissent, Thomas sounded a rare note of agreement with liberal groups such as the NAACP, which had sided with the property owners in the case.

He protested that urban renewal has historically resulted in displacement of minorities, the elderly and the poor.

"Regrettably, the predictable consequence of the Court's decision will be to exacerbate these effects," he wrote.

The case is Kelo v. City of New London , No. 04-108.

Staff writer Kirstin Downey contributed to this report.


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