Jacob Sullum

"It is clear to me from the record," Smith wrote, "that the elimination of blight, in the sense of substandard and unsanitary conditions that present a danger to public safety, was never the bona fide purpose of the development."

Last week a lower appeals court reached the same conclusion in a case involving Columbia University's expansion into the Manhattanville section of Harlem. As in the Atlantic Yards case, the Empire State Development Corp., the authority empowered to use eminent domain, went looking for "characteristics that demonstrate blight conditions" so it could reach a predetermined conclusion that condemnation was justified.

The result, said the court, was "a preposterous summary of building and sidewalk defects" that could be found in "virtually every neighborhood in the five boroughs." It concluded that the blight designation was "mere sophistry."

Refreshing as this rebuke is, it is likely to be reversed by the Court of Appeals, which in the Atlantic Yards case showed it is not inclined to second-guess development officials' blight judgments. "It may be that the bar has now been set too low," the court that set the bar conceded, "that what will now pass as 'blight,' as that expression has come to be understood and used by political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers, should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses."

But if so, the judges said, don't expect us to do anything about it -- the solution will have to come from legislators. I guess it will, given the unjustified deference that New York's highest court shows toward the self-interested assessments of developers and their allies.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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