Saving the Best for Last

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Say what you will about Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (search), her best decision may well have been one of her last.

And she didn’t even win. Justice O’Connor wrote the dissenting opinion in the case that allows the city of New London, Connecticut (search) to take over the homes of some folks who have a nice view of the Long Island Sound.

These are not rich folks. On the contrary, the folks in these homes are the salt of the earth. Justice O’Connor describes a few of them in her dissent: “Wilhelmina Dery, for example, lives in a house on Walbach Street that has been in her family for over 100 years. She was born in the house in 1918. Her husband, petitioner Charles Dery, moved into the house when they married in 1946. Their son lives next door with his family in the house he received as a wedding gift, and joins his parents in this suit.”

The city government wants to take over these middle-class homes, displacing folks who thought they were safe and secure in homes they spent their lives in and give them to rich developers, from whom the city will extract more tax revenue. This infuriated Justice O’Connor, who wrote:

''The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.''

Justice O’Connor went on to say that the court's decision eliminates "any distinction between private and public use of property — and thereby effectively (deletes) the words 'for public use' from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment" to the Constitution."

This was a classic O’Connor decision: defending the individual against the power of the state (a decision, by the way, joined by Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas). Not a bad legacy to leave behind, particularly as we celebrate our independence from state tyranny.

And that's the Observer.

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