How Not To Report On The Supreme Court

Land Developer Bart Didden

Land Developer Bart Didden

This morning’s New York Times piece on one of Judge Sotomayor’s eminent domain decisions quotes three sources:  Bart Didden, the land developer who Sotomayor ruled against, Ilya Somin, a libertarian law professor who filed a brief supporting Didden, and Richard Epstein, a radical libertarian who thinks that the minimum wage and child labor laws are unconstitutional.  Not one progressive, or even an interested party on the other side of the case is used as a source.  So guess what kind of picture the NYT paints of Sotomayor’s decision?

“This is the worst federal court takings decision since Kelo,” said Ilya Somin, who teaches property law at George Mason University and helped write the brief. “It’s very extreme, and it is significant as a window into Judge Sotomayor’s attitudes toward private property.” . . .

The case arose from a meeting in 2003 between Mr. Didden, who owned property in Port Chester, N.Y., and an executive of a company that had been designated by the village to develop a 27-acre urban renewal area that included part of the property. What happened at that meeting, Mr. Didden said, amounted to extortion.

Mr. Didden had made arrangements to put a CVS drug store on his lot. At the meeting, the executive, Gregg Wasser, demanded $800,000 as the price for permission to proceed with that project, Mr. Didden said in court papers. The alternative, Mr. Wasser said, according to the papers, was to have the village condemn Mr. Didden’s property so that Mr. Wasser’s company could put a Walgreen’s in the same place.

Had the NYT bothered to speak with someone on the other side of the case, however, they might have learned that Didden’s story doesn’t hold water.

The truth is this:  Didden lost his case because he waited too long to file his lawsuit.  He learned that his property was subject to eminent domain in 1999, but waited until 2004 to file suit–two years after the three year statute of limitations had expired.  So Sotomayor’s decision is hardly “extreme;” it simply held that land developers have to follow the same statute of limitations rules as everyone else in the country.

Moreover, the NYT‘s claim that Didden was some kind of victim in this case is absurd.  As Text and History explains, “Bart Didden was a commercial developer who owned property in the blighted area that he had been trying for years, without success, to develop into a CVS pharmacy.”  Once Port Chester included his lot in the urban renewal area, however, the value of Didden’s land skyrocketed.  Suddenly, what was worth close to nothing was worth $800,000 or more; but Didden was not satified with this enormous increase in his land’s value, so he tried to hold out for more.

In other words, the only question in Didden’s lawsuit was whether he would get a massive windfall, or an awesomely massive windfall.

Given the real facts of this case, it’s easy to understand why Judges Reena Raggi and Peter Hall, both George W. Bush appointees, joined Judge Sotomayor in unanimously rejecting Didden’s claim.  Maybe next time, the New York Times will bother to check its facts before it goes to print with a story that was virtually dictated to it by the right.