January 4, 2010 12:03PM

Protecting Property Rights

The Left tends to dismiss property rights as being for the rich and powerful. But the rich and powerful usually can take care of themselves whether their rights are formally recognized or not. It is the poor and middle class who most need legally enforceable property rights.

No where is that more clear than in cases of eminent domain. The government rarely moves against the rich and powerful, seizing their lands to redistribute to the poor. Most often the government takes the property of the poor and middle class to redistribute to the rich and influential.

So it is in New York City. George Will describes one case now working its way through the courts:

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.

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 past 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.

If the courts took the Constitution seriously the outcome of this case would not be in doubt. But today the Constitution only occasionally affects the operations of modern American government. Let’s hope that principle trumps politics when the case reaches New York’s top court.