You may have noticed that the New Jersey Nets have moved a step closer to becoming the Brooklyn Nets (or whatever) with Tuesday’s New York Court of Appeals ruling that the area desired by the team for a proposed arena can be seized under eminent domain.
As one writer at ESPN noted today, “There was undeniable positivity in New Jersey on Tuesday morning” because of the decision.
To which I would respond, “Excuse me?”
Just so we’re clear here, the road to this decision was paved with a Supreme Court case back in 2005 which ruled that eminent domain would no longer be limited to public use. That is to say, while in the past the government could seize an individual’s private property under the pretence of building public works (e.g., roads, schools, etc.), going forward eminent domain could now be used to transfer property from private owner to private owner under the guise of “economic development.”
In other words, if a corrupt Russian billionaire and his real estate developer partner want to take your house so they can build a $3.5 billion megaproject, hit the bricks.
There was a reason why the founders of the United States limited eminent domain to public use only in the Constitution, and never included private interests. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor noted in her dissenting opinion (the case was decided 5-4):
Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.
Who do you think had more “influence and power” in the New York Court of Appeals case, the owner of the Nets and Empire State Development Corp., or the mishmash of Brooklyn taxpayers? It doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out.
Fortunately, for those who are opposed to this sort of thing, the case is still not over. Bruce Ratner's mega-development hinges on tax-free bonds, which must be sold by December 31st. Given the three other lawsuits still pending against the development and the fact that the project has a multitude of apartment buildings in an area with scads of vacant, unsold apartment buildings, bond insurers will no doubt be at least a little skeptical of dipping their toes in his pool. And, without the tax-free bonds, the project will likely disappear more quickly than a David Stern promise.
Still, the development is closer to completion now that the Appeals Court has made its decision, and that has to make NBA owners happy.
What does this mean to NBA fans, though? Well, to those who care more about on-court than off-court activities, not much. With blinders fully in place, it just means that they’ll have to get used to seeing BRO instead of NJN in the score at the top of their television screens. The fact that lawful homeowners were booted out of their homes is utterly irrelevant.
But to those of us with a smidgen of a conscience, it’s sickening. Not satisfied with fleecing taxpayers with rental car and restaurant taxes, arenas with lifespans shorter than a fruit fly’s, and extortion on a grand scale, the NBA and their owners have now opted for a alternate route to obtain a shiny, new arena if citizens won’t cooperate:
Just take it.