Add Megan McArdle to the (rather short) list of people outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday not to hear the eminent domain case surrounding Columbia’s planned Manhattanville campus in West Harlem. On her blog over at The Atlantic, McArdle has some stern words for New York State and the Supreme Court:
In the case of Columbia, there’s a tangible public loss — they’re going to tear down one of the few gas stations in Manhattan in order to give Columbia’s privileged students more space. And what public benefit does the city get? We’re talking about taking taxpaying private properties and transferring them to a non-profit which will not pay taxes, and will turn a large swathe of Manhattan into a quasi-compound for some of the wealthiest and most privileged people in the city.
Which is, of course, the most sick-making aspect. I am not against eminent domain for public uses like hospitals or railroads. But by no stretch of the imagination could Columbia University be called a public accommodation. One’s gut and one’s social conscience rebel at the seizure of private property which is taken precisely because it serves, or is owned by, poorer people. One’s gut and one’s social conscience positively riot at the thought of taking this seized land and handing it over to wealthy private institution that almost exclusively serves the affluent class.
I don’t understand why this is an issue that only fires up libertarians. Can’t we all agree that it would be better to live in a world where Columbia cannot do this sort of thing? I guess not, though.
Maybe she’s just biased, considering McArdle’s an Upper West Side lifer who attended rival ivy UPenn.
Joking aside, there may be an answer to McArdle’s question about why so few people care about this issue. As Nick Sprayregen pointed out to The Observer yesterday, eminent domain is particularly insidious. “It’s not like abortion, which impacts, or seems to impact, everyone” he said, referring to the courts apparent indifference to his case.
And yet, in a way it is. Most people neither want nor plan on having abortions — it is a measure of last resort, one people turn to when the unexpected strikes. The same can be said for eminent domain. No one sees it coming until it is too late. In the same way careless lovers might think, “We won’t get pregnant,” the average home or business owner believes “Eminent domain? It couldn’t happen to me.” So while it poses a direct threat to no one, everyone is at risk of eminent domain. Put another way, the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller come to mind.
Now if only there was something New Yorkers could do to stop it…