minutia press.
Eminent Domain

The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a municipality that wanted to use eminent domain to take land away from a homeowner and give to a private company so that its taxes could benefit the community.

As with all close Supreme Court cases, I don't understand how 9 educated judges can divide so sharply along conservative/liberal lines. But in this case, the liberal judges evidently penned the decision.

As a homeowner I was initially appalled. I sure didn't like when the Brentwood communities were uprooted to make way for the Galleria follow-ons. The government claimed those communities were blighted. They weren't, of course, but they were not paying the $$ in taxes that tne businesses would pay. And $$ from taxes puts $$ in schools which benefits the community -- I'm sure you follow their argument.

The Supreme Court in its opinion stated that private property has long been taken for highways and stadiums. But isn't a private company is a whole new direction for eminent domain? The company cannot guarantee the tax benefits, as it could go out of business the day after obtaining the property. Also, the public doesn't have use of the property taken. Isn't that at odds with eminent domain?

I think this kind of case is interesting in that it shows how difficult it is to interpret the Constitution. But in thise case, it boils down to the words "for public use" and what that means in the fifth amendment. If the judges think "public use" includes tax money garnered from private ownership, then I think we need less qualified justices on the court. The judges didn't actually approve what was happening; they said the constitution didn't prohibit it.

"Public use"! What use does the public have of the property that is taken and given over to a company?

OK so I'm disappointed like hell about this, so what can I do? It's not really possible to recall Supreme Court justices. But there is something we can do.

We can amend the constitution so it's very clear, even to those with advanced law degrees, what "public use" means. We can encourage our state legislatures to start that process, and to pass their own laws limiting eminent domain application until the amendment process goes through. Who's with me on this?


Re: amending the Constitution - hammer-nail-head. The problem will be coming up with a precise definition of "public use". Does there have to be a benefit for a certain segment/portion of the population? What should the nature of this benefit be? Does the resulting land have to be open for use by all citizens (e.g. road, park) as opposed to private or institutional buildings? I'm sure you can think of more/better potential snafus...

The irony in Kelo v. New London is that the land taken for "public use" is being used entirely for private means, the "benefit" only showing up in some nebulous quantity of tax dollars which don't appear to be earmarked for anything in particular, let alone the public good.

Further irony comes from the fact that none of the liberals I've talked to agree with this "liberal" decision.

Well, I guess we can wait to see if David Souter's house really gets seized.

Posted by: Bob Amar at July 5, 2005 6:56 AM