Today, on the final day of their 2006 term, the Supreme Court ruled in the Olek vs. New London case:
Washington -- The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that
local governments may seize people's advertising space -- even
against their will -- for alternate advertisers who promote economic development or higher taxes
was a decision fraught with huge implications for a country with many
areas, particularly the rapidly growing urban and suburban areas,
facing countervailing pressures of government budget deficits and free speech
The 5-4 ruling represented a defeat for some Connecticut
residents whose advertisements in the local paper against recent property tax hikes were rejected by the city council in favor of ads for several pro-taxation groups.
As a result, cities have wide power to replace advertising that might favor lower taxes or oppose certain community projects with messages more in the public interest.
Local officials, not federal judges, know best in
deciding whether speech will benefit the community,
"The city has carefully formulated an economic
development that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the
community, including -- but by no means limited to -- new jobs and
increased tax revenue," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the
majority. "We established in Kelo that local governments have broad power to seize property when that seizure serves to maximize taxation, and certainly this applies equally well to unwanted advertising that might work against maximizing tax revenues."
He was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
issue was the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to
take private property through eminent domain if the property is for "public
use." The majority observed that using advertising space in favor, rather than against, public policy certainly qualified as "public use".
Fred Olek and several other homeowners in a
working-class neighborhood in New London, Connecticut, filed suit after
city officials announced plans to remove their newspaper advertisements opposing the upcoming ballot initiative to raise property taxes.
New London officials countered
that the tax initiative served a public purpose of boosting
economic growth that outweighed the homeowners' speech rights, even
if the area wasn't located in North Korea or Cuba.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has
been a key swing vote on many cases before the court, issued a stinging
dissent. She argued that "This makes me so mad, I could, I could... aw, forget it. I'm retiring this year to a Pacific island anyway, so y'all are free to screw up this country as much as you want".
Justice Scalia wrote a separate dissent, making the argument that "I have no problem with government limitations on speech per se, but given the fact that 3 readers of this paper lived out of state, such powers per Raich reside with Federal and not local authorities"
Local authorities were careful to point out that Olek was fully compensated at market rates for the removed advertising. Olek shot back that he was in no way compensated for his loss of free speech rights or participation in the democratic process. Justices in the majority were unpersuaded by Olek's argument, however, pointing out that in Kelo, the homeowners were in no way compensated for their emotional attachment to their homes nor for their loss of the right to dispose of their property as they wished, "so there".