The City of Arnold wants to redevelop land within its boundaries. Unfortunately, the City doesn't own all the land. A dentist's office stood in the way and its owner doesn't want to sell. Arnold, therefore, declared the area "blighted" and tried to take the property by eminent domain. The valiant dentist, Homer Tourkakis, fought this taking of his property all the way to the Supreme Court. Today, he lost.
In its 6-1 opinion, the Court ruled that Missouri's tax increment financing law allows all municipalities in the state "to utilize eminent domain to take private property to facilitate redevelopment." Tourkakis had argued that only charter cities, which Arnold is not, were allowed to use eminent domain in that fashion. This technicality, unfortunately for Tourkakis, did not hold up.
The Supreme Court correctly upheld the TIF law enacted by elected representatives of the people in 1982. Those representatives had the right to make the law and today the Court simply interpreted it. Instead of yielding to the temptation to make law from the bench, the judges deferred to the legislature.
But the legislature was wrong in 1982 and should revisit and curb the exercise of eminent domain in 2008. Eminent domain is a necessary evil, without which roads could not have been built and other projects for the public good could not have been completed. But its use has been expanded from necessary public projects to projects designed to benefit one private interest over another.
Cities are using their power to rob Peter to pay Paul. Or, in this case, Arnold is robbing Homer to pay a redeveloper. Somebody needs to stand up to protect Homer Tourkakis and all the other Peters out there.