North Carolina Commissioners, Residents Reject Eminent Domain Proposal

Published February 18, 2016

North Carolina lawmakers have rejected a proposal to seize residents’ property and resell it to a company for private development.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners rejected a proposal to seize and sell more than 400 acres of private property to CSX Corporation, a real estate and railway company proposing to build a $272 million project in the county, which is located about 40 miles southeast of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Public Use or Private Benefit

Jon Guze, director of legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation, says state property owners are not sufficiently protected from the misuse of eminent domain—the seizing of private property by government agencies for public use. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Kelo v. City of New London, determined governments could take private property for “private benefit.” Courts have also affirmed “public use” property takings as originally set forth in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The North Carolina Constitution … doesn’t prohibit the use of the takings power by a common carrier like a railroad,” Guze said. “My instinct is always to side with the little guys and with property owners, and that’s especially true when it comes to eminent domain. Moreover, from what I’ve read in the news, it sounds as though CSX has been needlessly heavy-handed in its initial dealings with the public.”

‘Victory for the Little Guys’

Dean Stansel, a research associate professor at Southern Methodist University, says the county commissioners’ decision to stand with taxpayers against business interests is encouraging.

“I was very pleased to hear that the local politicians sided with the local property owners in a case involving eminent domain,” Stansel said. “That’s pretty unusual. I do see this as a victory for the little guys, the individual property owners who don’t have the resources to be able to influence local politicians the way big corporations usually can.”

Andrea Dillon ([email protected]) writes from Holly Springs, North Carolina.