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State isn't Senecas' agent New York should not take private land for a sovereign nation

New York State promised the Seneca Nation of Indians that it would try to seize private land to develop the nation's casino interests in Niagara Falls, so as a matter of law and honor, it probably needs to follow through.

But just because the state says it will do something doesn't make it right or moral. This is one of those cases. Albany has no business grabbing private property to further the economic interests of another private entity -- especially one operated by another sovereign nation, not to mention one as wildly successful as the Seneca Niagara Casino.

Owners of the Fallsville Splash Park, one of the holdouts in the state-designated zone for Seneca development, have hired a lawyer to challenge the land-grab on the grounds that it is "improper and unconstitutional to condemn property for an Indian nation." The point, said lawyer Michael Rikon, is the Senecas' status as a sovereign nation. It would be the same, he contends, if the state were taking this action on behalf of any other nation, Canada or North Korea or Ukraine.

It's a novel and interesting argument, one that Rikon believes has never been made. If the Senecas really are a sovereign nation, as they claim and court rulings have held, then it seems at least plausible that they would have a diminished ability to make use of the laws of eminent domain. It's worth testing in court.

Without that argument, this case would be similar to the recent U.S. Supreme Court case in which justices upheld the condemnation of private property in New London, Conn., for purposes of private economic development. In their ruling, the justices practically urged state legislatures to restrict that use of eminent domain. New York should, because that kind of land-grab is unconscionable. It's wrong regardless of who is doing it, including -- make that especially -- another sovereign nation.

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