The most driving legal force in our society has always been the law of unintended consequences.
The New Jersey Supreme Court in its Mt. Laurel decision intended to provide equal access to housing. The more immediate impact was to worsen the problem ofsuburban sprawl as every community sought to accommodate every income category.
InAbbott the Court decided that equal opportunity in education was synonymous with equivalenttax expenditures amongall studentsand a generation chased dollars instead of accountability in our schools.
Last week the NJ Supreme Court made the point again. In limiting the ability of communities to use eminent domain for redevelopment purposes the Court intended to preserve a founding constitutional principle involving the sanctity of private property. The reality is that a miracle of urban redevelopment that is rescuing thousands of our citizens from urban blight is in jeopardy.
A tidal wave of redevelopment has transformed deteriorating neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, Baltimore and New York into vibrant communities. That wave has hit New Brunswick and may be ready of transform Newark, Trenton and Camden. The Court “rescued” us just in time.
Now it won’t be enough to prove that an area “is in need of redevelopment” and is not being used for its “optimal manner”. It’s a good thing that New York didn’t have this Court when it cleaned up Times Square or Maryland when Baltimore rebuilt the inner harbor. Plaintiffs in those cases could have argued that their lands were economically productive and that the owners had a right to resist better uses.
How about the right of children attending schools that need tax dollars from the more optimum uses of the land? How about people who need jobs from the new offices and factories? How about all of us who need development along mass transit corridors to protect open space and save energy?
There are no absolutes in Constitutional Law. The right of every citizen needs to be balanced against the rights of every other citizen. Somebody should have brought a school child, an unemployed worker or an overly burdened taxpayer into that court room. They have rights too.