In June, 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled (vote was 5-4) in Kelo v. New London that local governments could use their power of eminent domain to take private property, including homes, to promote economic development. In Kelo, the court ruled that the economically depressed city of New London, Conn., had the power to take and pay for the property of a group of homeowners for a planned development that included a waterfront conference hotel, a marina, housing, and commercial and office space. But the majority also emphasized that the government’s power was legitimate because there was a deep public need and a well worked-out plan.
The decision has sparked opposition across the political spectrum.
The Constitution allows the government to take property for “public use," such as roads, schools and hospitals. For more than a century, courts have interpreted “public use” to include public purpose or benefit, like clearing a slum or helping a utility or railroad obtain right-of-way.
The government must pay just compensation for the property it takes.
A controversy arises over what kind of public benefits, if any, can justify eminent domain.Edit
Some polls showed close to 90 percent of respondents hostile to using eminent domain for economic development, with a strong majority even critical of using eminent domain to build roads.
Legislators in more than two dozen states are planning legislation that would curb the power of state or local governments to take private property for any private economic development project (often with the sole exception in cases of “blight”).
Members of Congress have introduced at least nine measures, including one denying federal funds to any local government that uses eminent domain for economic development.
Grover Norquist, a right-wing strategist with Americans for Tax Reform, told The Economist that “twenty years from now, people will look back at Kelo the way people look back at Roe v. Wade,” spawning a property rights movement as potent as the anti-abortion movement.
The Kelo homeowners case drew support from the left and progressive politicians: NAACP, AARP and the respected urbanologist Jane Jacobs. Ralph Nader has criticized local governments for abusing their power to transfer property of homeowners and small businesses to big corporations.
Atlantic City tried to take a woman’s house to provide limousine parking for Donald Trump (a move blocked by the courts).
Long Branch, New Jersey, wants to use eminent domain to clear existing waterfront homes in order to build higher-priced homes.
Past urban renewal projects were often labeled “Negro removal” — such as the destruction of Boston’s West End working class Italian community for luxury housing or Robert Moses’ massive transformation of many neighborhoods in New York City, especially in the Bronx.
Eminent domain is combined with tax breaks and other public subsidies for factories, warehouses, Wal-Mart and other big box retailers, and stadiums for private sports teams—like the subsidies and eminent domain powers used to build a stadium for George W. Bush’s Texas Rangers. The public benefits of these private developments are frequently exaggerated, and corporations often take the tax breaks and fail to live up to expectations — or even leave.
Distinctions with differencesEdit
Property right advocates sees eminent domain for economic development as abuse. Government creates property rights and associated limits.
Should distinctions occur between rights of homeowners and those of corporations?
The Libertarian movement that stresses property rights has jumped into the driver's seat on the issues of eminent domain.
Solution approach by Mark RauterkusEdit
Rather than refine the hammer and the nails of eminent domain legislation, let's be more creative and choose to totally avoid eminent domain for a generation. Then we can let our children decide in 25 years if the issue of eminent domain in Pennsylvania needs to be re-examined.
Presentation of Mark Rauterkus to the PA House State Government Committee on September 22, 2005 Edit
- The link above to the blog reposts the six-page handout delivered in ten minutes to the Committee members.
- Eminent domain looms over arena site Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July, 2006
- West End hillside might be taken with eminent domain in May, 2006
- Ohio's Top Court gives favorable decision to homeowners in July 2006.