Eminent Domain – Atlantic City Story
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Eminent Domain – Atlantic City Story


(Piano music playing.) As a kid growing up with pianos,
I remember the first time I ever broke a string, my dad said, you broke
it, Charlie, you’re gonna fix it. The first musical director of
one of the casinos, he came to me and said, Charlie, I
have a lot of pianos here. So that’s what started my career
in piano tuning in Atlantic City. At the beginning of the 20th century,
Atlantic City was America’s Playground. But after World War II,
its fortunes declined. The city then gambled
on casinos and lost big. Much of “America’s Playground”
is now a casino wasteland. This building is not just walls. This building is a
cross-section of my life. It’s like a
living, breathing thing. We were blessed to be able
to come as immigrants to this country after what my parents
had survived; the Holocaust. And the idea of actually
owning something that we couldn’t be thrown
out of was huge. But maybe Charlie
could be thrown out. In 2014, a state judge ruled the Casino
Reinvestment Development Authority could seize Charlie’s home using the
state’s power of eminent domain. And you have 45 days to vacate
and that it would be bulldozed as all the other buildings right
next to me had been bulldozed. Does the public use provision of the Fifth
Amendment have any meaning whatsoever, and the Supreme Court’s answer by a
five to four vote was effectively no. The Constitution provides that
private property may be taken for a public use, with
just compensation paid. But the Supreme Court rewrote
“public use” to read “public purpose,” which is much broader. And the thing that was crazy
in the Birnbaum case is they weren’t even sure exactly what
they were going to use it for or when they were going to use it. They said we don’t have
to give you an answer. I’m thinking, where do we live?
Is this Russia? Is this North Korea? It’s just a naked
abuse of government power. So Charlie went to court. Two years later, the judge
deemed the state’s effort to oust Charlie a “manifest abuse
of the eminent domain power.” New Jersey appealed but, in
the end, Charlie prevailed. In the infamous case of Kelo versus New
London, Susette Kelo wasn’t so lucky. The Supreme Court said we can’t
decide what a public purpose is; we’ll let the city
councils decide that. That’s good enough for us. Funny
but I had thought the justices were supposed to make
constitutional decisions. So the battle goes on.

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