pageok
pageok
pageok
Columbia University Abandons Threat to Use Eminent Domain to Seize Residential Property in Harlem:

Last year, I wrote a series of posts criticizing Columbia University's plans to potentially use eminent domain to seize land it coveted in the Manhanttanville neighborhood in Harlem (see here and here).

I am happy to be able to report that, according to the New York Times, Columbia has decided to renounce the use of eminent domain to further its expansion plans (hat tip: VC reader Michael Pitkowsky):

Columbia University announced yesterday that it would not ask the state to use eminent domain to evict residents of 132 apartments in the 17-acre area of Harlem that it wants to move into.

The announcement, covering all the remaining residents in the area, suggests that the university, which is seeking the city's support for a major northward expansion of its Morningside Heights campus, is trying to be conciliatory.

Unfortunately, as the article notes, Columbia still reserves the option of using eminent domain to acquire the "few" commercial properties that remain in the area. As I explained in great detail in my first post on this issue, there is no good justification for allowing politically powerful institutions such as Columbia to use eminent domain to acquire the property of relatively weaker groups, such as the mostly poor African-American residents of Manhattanville.

After getting extensive negative publicity, Columbia has made the right decision with respect to residential properties. Hopefully, it will eventually reach the same conclusion about the commercial properties as well.

UPDATE: As commenters point out, there is some evidence that Columbia may have actually changed its mind on this issue several months before their recent public announcement (see the account in this article). Whatever the case may be, it is good that they have backed off their earlier threats to use eminent domain against homeowners, but unfortunate that they persist in doing so against owners of commercial properties.

Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Columbia has been saying for months (at least) that it would not seek to oust residents via eminent domain and that it would ask the state to condemn only commercial property, if it makes such a request at all. Whether the state should agree to do even this much is a fair question, but what Prof. Somin and the NY Times present as a new development is actually old news.
7.13.2007 6:09pm
Ilya Somin:
Columbia has been saying for months (at least) that it would not seek to oust residents via eminent domain and that it would ask the state to condemn only commercial property, if it makes such a request at all.

The previous statements were, apparently, only private, as the linked Columbia spectator article says. They did not tie Columbia's hands in the way that the new public statement does.
7.13.2007 6:22pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Prof. Somin -

I guess that depends upon what you mean by "in private". If you equate the term with "not in a document filed with the state" then perhaps you're right.

The article I linked to mentions a specific occasion when Columbia's president promised not to use eminent domain against residents, and you seem to infer that this was the only such prior statement. I don't think that's a reasonable inference, especially in light of the quotes from the university's spokesperson. I admit that I can't point to any other specific incidents, but the article suggests that there were some and certainly doesn't suggest the opposite.

Even if this was the only incident I don't agree that it could be called private. It was at a fireside chat the president held in front of a group of students and reporters from the student press. I think a statement made solely to employees could be called private, but that one made to students and student media could not. Of course, reasonable people can differ on this point.
7.13.2007 6:37pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
there is no good justification for allowing politically powerful institutions such as Columbia to use eminent domain to acquire the property of relatively weaker groups


Ilya, are you really suggesting that the relative economic status of the affected parties should determine their legal rights? I'm certainly not in favor of rampant use of eminent domain for the benefit of private parties, but I don't think that the law should take cognizance of their respective economic status. If eminent domain can be used to take private party to be transferred to Columbia University, then they should be able to take the property most needed for the proper governmental purpose, whether it is owned by Donald Trump or a poor local resident.

As a practical matter, I assume such a rule would result, as usual, in the middle class getting screwed. Your rule would prohibit taking the property of the poor, while practical politics would prevent taking the property of the rich. The middle class, however, have just enough status as to not be sympathetic "victims of society" but not enough to truly stand up to a single powerful institution, so only the property of the middle class would be truly subject to taking.
7.13.2007 7:24pm
Ilya Somin:
Ilya, are you really suggesting that the relative economic status of the affected parties should determine their legal rights?

I did not say any such thing in this post or elsewhere.
7.13.2007 7:38pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
PatHMV:

Prof. Sonin's post may refer only to the poor, but that doesn't mean his argument is limited to the poor. I'm sure he would take the same position if property of the middle class were at stake.

This error is akin to the one Prof. Somin made when he inferred from the article in the student paper that the statement it mentioned must be the only one that was ever made. It makes little sense to infer from the limited scope of a discussion that the subject of that discussion is likewise limited.
7.13.2007 7:42pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Could you explain to me, then, what you meant when you said:

there is no good justification for allowing politically powerful institutions such as Columbia to use eminent domain to acquire the property of relatively weaker groups, such as the mostly poor African-American residents of Manhattanville.


Are you saying simply that as a matter of public policy, the government should decline to exercise its eminent domain power to condemn this property? My initial reading was that you were saying that such an abuse of the eminent domain power would be against the law, because it should not be "allowed." In looking over your first post on the topic and again here, I see that you do not explicitly opine that exercise of eminent domain here would be unconstitutional. You do, however, assert that it is "abuse" of eminent domain which is "reprehensible." I take it you meant only that it would be a constitutionally permissible abuse of the political process?

You do not assert that it is abuse because of the nature of the use to which Columbia would put the property, if New York were to condemn it, nor do you assert in these 2 posts that it is generally wrong for a governmental entity to take property for a private non-profit institution.

As I say, even as a policy matter, I think we tread on dangerous water when we take the relative economic status of the two parties involved into account. Take into account the subjective emotional attachment of existing families to their homes, but not their economic status.
7.13.2007 9:30pm
hey (mail):
PatHMV: Since the abomination of Kelo, we`re all aware that governments are able to condemn any property for any reason, according to the constitution. State and local governments are still able to not use their authority, and legislatures and voters are still capable of further restricting local powers rather than granting them full Kelo powers.

Further, you obviously haven`t read the site`s previous denunciations of the use of eminent domain, nor do you have the intellectual capacity to understand the various meanings of the word allow or how the explicit words `politically powerful`are VERY different from relative economic status. The people who own the commercial buildings that Columbia is seeking to condemn are likely wealthy in any normal evaluation (Manhattan property market being what it is), as are those who own the residential buildings. None the less they have nowhere near the political clout of Columbia, New York`s only Ivy, one of NYC`s largest employers, a vast economic engine for the UWS, and a source for professionals for all of NYC`s industry.

Please take several remedial Englsih courses over the summer before commenting here again, as you are having a Billy Madison effect with your current comments. Trolls are bad, but illiterates are worse.
7.14.2007 6:02pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Hmmm... Insult rather than analysis and argument. And in response not to an argument but a request for clarification about an author's use of ambiguous (in context) phrases. Yep, that's a sure sign of a vastly superior intellect. I bow to your immense wisdom.
7.14.2007 7:11pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
For the benefit of those who are not the anonymous coward "hey," I'll elaborate further, lest there be any confusion.

I agree that Kelo was a bad decision, and I am certainly well aware that Prof. Somin and most if not all of his co-conspirators share that opinion. This site often discusses what its posters and commenters believe the proper Constitutional interpretation ought to be, in addition to what it is. So when Prof. Somin said that something ought not be allowed, it is entirely reasonable to wonder whether he was suggesting that as the ideal rule of constitutional interpretation on this point.

While most of the criticism of Kelo has focused on the inequities between the private parties who are beneficiaries of the taking and the private parties who are victims of the taking, that inequality is not the basis for the rule which Kelo should have established. The Constitution does not establish the relative economic status (or political power) of the parties as a guideline for deciding whether a taking is permissible. It provides that private property may be taken for "public use."

Now, as to additional restrictions which may be imposed by legislation, I would again suggest that the law ought not provide for considering the relative economic status or political power of the parties in considering whether the property may be taken. By all means, tighten up the definition of "public use" far beyond the abomination of Kelo, but don't let property rights hinge on one's existing economic status or relative political power. How would you even set such a rule? How would you measure the relevant factors? Any institution with sufficient political and economic clout to begin a taking to begin with would inevitably have more power and clout than the owner of the property to be taken. I'm not sure any takings would be possible under such a rule.

Mind you, I don't think that Prof. Somin intended to advocate such a rule, but I believe his comments, as phrased, are easily read as suggesting that.
7.14.2007 7:29pm
Nick sprayregen (mail):
I am the largest property owner fighting the threats of eminent domain by Columbia. Their tactics are ethically bankrupt. As I have vowed for the last three years, I am ready willing and financially able to fight them for as long as it takes.
7.15.2007 6:38pm