Eminent Domain: Properties, Principles, and Strange Bedfellows

The Spring 2008 issue of The Current, a student publication at Columbia University, has a very balanced in-depth look at the issues surrounding the university’s reliance upon eminent domain for its Manhattanville expansion. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Because of purposeful vagueness on the part of the University, the future of Manhattanville is uncertain. In the end, Columbia will most likely be able to expand into the West Harlem neighborhood and begin construction on many of the new buildings it has proposed. And let’s not forget that much good will probably come of this, specifically in the way of more research opportunities for the University, more space for students and faculty, and more economic opportunities for the surrounding community.

But the potential abuse of the state’s eminent domain power should temper our support of Columbia’s expansion. That a private institution like Columbia can call on New York state to designate an area as “blighted,” seemingly for the sole purpose of Columbia’s expansion, is not what the framers intended by the term “public use” in the Fifth Amendment.

Indeed, when everyone from Clarence Thomas to Ralph Nader to the Columbia Coalition Against the War can agree on something, it probably means that the University should stop and re-think its plans for Manhattanville.