George Will highlights another clear example of eminent domain abuse in his latest Newsweek column. A few key paragraphs:
The Gambles say that when the city offered them money for their house, they were not interested. “We had everything we wanted, right there,” says Joy, who does not drive but could walk to see her mother in a Norwood nursing home. “We loved that house — that home.”
Past tense. Norwood’s government, in a remarkably incestuous deal, accepted the developer’s offer to pay the cost of the study that — surprise! — enabled the city to declare the neighborhood “blighted” and “deteriorating.” NEWSWEEK reader, stroll around your neighborhood. Do you see any broken sidewalk pavement? Any standing water in a road? Any weeds? Such factors — never mind that sidewalks and roads are government’s responsibility — were cited by the developer’s study to justify Norwood’s forcing the Gambles and their neighbors to sell to the developer so he could build condominiums, office buildings and stores.
Reeling from the life-shattering effects of an uncircumscribed power of eminent domain, the Gambles are hoping for rescue by their state Supreme Court, before which they are represented by the Institute for Justice, a merry band of libertarian litigators. The Gambles have the dignified stoicism of uncomplicated people put upon by sophisticated people nimble with complex sophistries. Carl says, “We’re paying a lot each month for storage” of their possessions that do not fit in his daughter’s basement near the town of Independence, Ky. Independence is what becomes tenuous when property rights become attenuated.
This could happen to you, folks. If you happen to live in Ohio, please read my post on the Ohio eminent domain task force that’s ignoring the major objection to eminent domain abuse: people don’t want the government taking their property and giving it to another private property owner. Ever.
As George Will wrote, “Kelo demonstrated that anyone who owns a modest home or small business owns it only at the sufferance of a local government that might, on a whim of rapacity, seize it to enrich a more attractive potential taxpayer.”
Hat tip: No Left Turns
The Ohio task force on eminent domain has released its preliminary report, and it’s missed the most important point of the exercise. I’m not interested in a fairer procedure for the government to use as it takes my home. I’m not interested in a clearer definition of “blight” that spells out exactly when the government can take my home. You see, I don’t want the government to take my home at all. Why is that so hard to understand?
A local or state government can exercise its eminent domain powers to take private property from its owner, if the government does so for a “public use” and pays “just compensation” (see the Fifth Amendment, at right). Until very recently, the term “public use” meant what you’d expect: building a school, putting in a highway, laying railroad tracks, and other projects that the public has access to.
We used to think of private building projects as a “private use” of property, since the public doesn’t have guaranteed access. But no more. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. New London last summer, the definition of “public use” has expanded to include the government seizing your land and giving it to another private owner for “economic development” (which means the new owner’s project yields higher property taxes than you do, or creates jobs, or some similar rationalization).
Liberals and conservatives alike blew a collective gasket over the ruling, and angry voters have already pressured several state legislatures into passing laws prohibiting these takings through eminent domain.
I just e-mailed the gubernatorial campaigns of Ken Blackwell and Jim Petro and asked the following question:
Would [candiate name here] support Ohio legislation to permanently prohibit the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes (see Kelo v. New London)?
I realize that the Ohio legislature passed a temporary moratorium on this kind of government taking, which expires in December. I asked instead about a permanent ban.
I’ll let you know how the candidates reply, if at all. My guess is that at least one (and maybe both) will duck the issue and defer to the “Legislative Task Force to Study Eminent Domain and Its Use and Application in the State”, which will release its first report on April 1st.