It is distressing that the Court has given government the go-ahead to take property from one private citizen and give it directly to another private citizen solely for the purpose of improving the tax base. The “public use” restriction on the government’s previously limited eminent domain power has been eradicated in one fell swoop.
The government in this case evicted an 86-year-old woman from the house she was born in, and broke up the close family community she had created by giving her son and his family the house next door 60 years ago as a wedding gift. If Wilhelmina Dory’s well-maintained property can be taken for nothing more than the predicted increase in tax revenues generated by a large corporation, then nobody’s property is safe.
Government can claim almost any taking and transfer of property from one private citizen to another is predicted to generate increased tax revenue. By so greatly expanding the “public use” language of the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause to include mere projected economic benefit, the Court has completely eradicated the public use restriction that our Founding Fathers so carefully inserted into the Bill of Rights.
The Court’s decision illustrates the vital role state legislatures and local representative government must play in protecting our rights. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, for example, signed a law on March 17 preventing redevelopment agencies from transferring private property from one private entity to another. Similarly, the Nevada legislature on May 30 passed a bill restricting the ability of redevelopment agencies from taking non-blighted private property.
In light of the eroding federal protections against misuse of the eminent domain power, it is important for state legislatures to follow the lead of Utah and Nevada.
Attorney James M. Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News, a monthly publication of The Heartland Institute, a national nonprofit organization based in Chicago.