George Will

BROOKLYN -- On Aug. 27, 1776, British forces routed George Washington's novice army in the Battle of Brooklyn, which was fought in fields and woods where today the battle of Prospect Heights is being fought. Americans' liberty is again under assault, but this time by overbearing American governments.

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The fight involves an especially egregious example of today's eminent domain racket. The issue is a form of government theft that the Supreme Court encouraged with its worst decision of the last decade -- one that probably will be radically revised in this one.

The Atlantic Yards site, where 10 subway lines and one railway line converge, is the center of the bustling Prospect Heights neighborhood of mostly small businesses and middle-class residences. Its energy and gentrification are reasons why 22 acres of this area -- the World Trade Center site is only 16 acres -- are coveted by Bruce Ratner, a politically connected developer collaborating with the avaricious city and state governments.

To seize the acres for Ratner's use, government must claim that the area -- which is desirable because it is vibrant -- is "blighted." The cognitive dissonance would embarrass Ratner and his collaborating politicians, had their cupidity not extinguished their sense of the absurd.

The condo of Daniel Goldstein, his wife and year-old daughter, which cost Goldstein $590,000 in 2003, is on part of the land where Ratner's $4.9 billion project would be built -- with the assistance of more than $1 billion in corporate welfare from the state and city governments, which are drowning in red ink. The Goldsteins' building would not seem blighted to anyone not paid to see blight for the convenience of the payers. Which is of constitutional significance.

The Constitution says government may not take private property other than for a "public use." By "public," the Framers, who did not scatter adjectives carelessly, meant uses -- roads, bridges, parks, public buildings -- directly owned or primarily used by the general public. In 1954, however, in a case concerning a crime- and infectious disease-ridden section of Washington, D.C., the court expanded the notion of "public use" to include removing "blight."


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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