Eminent Domain

Thoughts on a Free Market Economy…
“Eminent Domain”
By Phyllis Hunsinger
November 1, 2015

Eminent domain is defined as the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation. Generally speaking, eminent domain is the power of the state to seize private property without the owner’s consent. In the past the most common uses of property taken by eminent domain were for right-of-ways for railroads, highways, or public buildings.

The Founding Fathers attempted to protect private property as they were trying to develop a framework for the nation with the Fifth Amendment Taking Clause which states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The right to possess property has been the essential cornerstone of America’s freedom since the nation began. From an economic prospective, the concept of private property is an essential element to a strong economy.

Over the years, eminent domain has been expanded to cover not only projects for “public use” but to now include “public benefit,” as a consequence of the Supreme Court decision in Kelo v.City of New London in 2005. The Supreme Court set a precedent for property to be transferred to a private owner for the purpose of economic development. The court found that if an economic project creates new jobs, increases tax and other city revenues, and revitalizes a depressed or blighted urban area it qualifies as a public use.

The ruling in Kelo v. City of New London appeared to create even more room for eminent domain abuse.
Eminent domain abuse has become a growing concern in many communities where a property developer may convince the city officials to take private property from others for the purpose of redevelopment for profit. The law has gone as far as defining “public use” as “for the public good,” which are entirely different meanings. Judicial decrees empowering states to exploit property rights under the guise of meeting the needs of all citizens is a slippery slope.

Citizens need to be vigilant in limiting eminent domain. Let your elected representatives know that protecting an individual’s property rights is essential to liberty.

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