The article, headlined Judge Puts Liberal Imprint on New York’s Top Court, begins:
Gov. David A. Paterson nominated Jonathan Lippman to head the New York Court of Appeals in January 2009, making him the chief judge of the state. The choice was a gamble: the judge, a longtime court administrator, did not have a long history of deciding cases, and there was almost no record of his political views.Looking more closely
Now, a year in, the parameters of the Lippman court are coming into focus: he has helped turn the Court of Appeals into a scrappier, more divided and more liberal panel, its rulings and court statistics show. To get the rulings he wants, the decisions show, the new chief judge has built alliances case by case with each of the four judges who were nominated by the last Republican governor, George E. Pataki, cracking the conservative majority.
I posted most of the following as comments on the Times's web site.
While the court may have moved to the left in certain areas, on the contentious issue of eminent domain--which now challenges ideological boundaries--the court most recently displayed great deference to the state, which is hardly a "left" position.
In the Atlantic Yards eminent domain case decided 6-1 last November in favor of the defendant Empire State Development Corporation, Lippman wrote the majority opinion. A key passage:
It may be that the bar has now been set too low -- that what will now pass as 'blight,' as that expression has come to be understood and used by political appointees to public corporations relying upon studies paid for by developers, should not be permitted to constitute a predicate for the invasion of property rights and the razing of homes and businesses. But any such limitation upon the sovereign power of eminent domain as it has come to be defined in the urban renewal context is a matter for the Legislature, not the courts.Judge Robert Smith wrote in dissent:
The whole point of the public use limitation is to prevent takings even when a state agency deems them desirable. To let the agency itself determine when the public use requirement is satisfied is to make the agency a judge in its own cause. I think that it is we who should perform the role of judges, and that we should do so by deciding that the proposed taking in this case is not for public use.Next chance: Columbia case
The Court of Appeals will get another chance to address eminent domain in the spring when the Empire State Development Corporation appeals the surprising ruling for the plaintiffs in the case challenging eminent domain for the Columbia University expansion.
In a plurality opinion, Appellate Division Justice James Catterson called the blight designation "mere sophistry" and wrote: T
hus, the record makes plain that rather than the identity of the ultimate private beneficiary being unknown at the time that the redevelopment scheme was initially contemplated, the ultimate private beneficiary of the scheme for the private annexation of Manhattanville was the progenitor of its own benefit. The record discloses that every document constituting the plan was drafted by the preselected private beneficiary's attorneys and consultants and architects, from the General Project Plan, the Special District Zoning Text, the City Map Override Proposal, and the Land Use Restrictions to all phases of the environmental review. Even the blight study on which ESDC originally proposed to base its findings was prepared by Columbia's consultant AKRF, nominally retained by ESDC for the purpose, but which retention and use by ESDC was roundly condemned by this Court in Tuck-it-Away I.There are many parallels with the Atlantic Yards case, so Lippman and colleagues will be challenged "to perform the role of judges," as Smith wrote.
Siegel on liberals and eminent domain
Norman Siegel, longtime head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, represents plaintiffs in the Columbia case.
In December, he said, "Liberals, generally, are not good on eminent domain. Liberals see government as an affirmative force to improve mankind. Liberals… do not respect property rights as they respect economic rights and social rights."
"Conservatives, as stereotypical statement, are distrustful of government, wind up being generally good on this issue, especially if they’re libertarian conservatives," he said. "It’s not unusual to see strange bedfellows, if you realize the common ground is distrust of government power."
So Siegel is a "liberal" challenging the "liberal" Lippman court and, as stated, that term may not apply all that well to eminent domain.
The Silver connection
One commenter pointed out that Lippman's appointment was engineered by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, his boyhood friend. I observed that, if you want to follow the Silver trail, consider that the Assembly Speaker is a big supporter of Atlantic Yards.
Last February, the Village Voice's Wayne Barrett wrote a cover story on the Lippman appointment, picturing Silver as engineering it all.