North Carolina Lawmaker Proposes Eminent Domain Ballot Question

Published February 28, 2017

North Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would ask voters to approve new restrictions on local and state governments’ power to seize and resell people’s private property to private developers.

House Bill 3, cosponsored by state Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), would place a ballot question before voters in 2018 that would ask them to prohibit North Carolina’s state and local governments from seizing and paying for individuals’ private property if the purchased property is not intended to be converted to a public use.

In a 2005 Supreme Court case, Kelo v. City of New London, the Court decided governments may take individuals’ private property to benefit other private individuals, redfining the “public use” power specifically included in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Reining in Government

McGrady says the Kelo decision inspired his bill.

“It makes clear that we’re talking about public use, not some sort of public benefit,” McGrady said. “It’s intended to create the opposite result that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to in Kelo. A government cannot condemn just because whatever they’re condemning for creates a public benefit. They can only condemn for a public use.”

McGrady says his bill is intended to halt the creeping infringement of property rights.

“We’re trying to assert that and make sure there’s no slippage,” McGrady said. “There is loose language in a number of court cases that sort of flips back and forth between public use and public benefit. What is our Constitution all about? Protecting personal property and personal liberties.”

Reinforcing Property Rights

Jon Guze, director of legal studies at the John Locke Foundation, says McGrady’s bill and ballot question would increase the state’s protections for property rights. 

“North Carolina is the only state that doesn’t explicitly address eminent domain in its constitution, but that doesn’t mean North Carolina property owners are completely unprotected,” Guze said.

“In the first place, the U.S. Constitution, which applies to the states via the 14th Amendment, limits the use of eminent domain to ‘public use’ and requires ‘just compensation,'” Guze said. “In addition, the North Carolina Supreme Court has consistently interpreted the ‘law of the land’ clause in Article I, Section 19 of the state’s constitution as requiring both public use and just compensation.”

Preventing Another ‘Kelo’

Guze says eminent domain reform would keep big government and big business from colluding against everyday people.

“The whole point of an eminent domain amendment and of changing the eminent domain statutes is to make sure North Carolina’s courts don’t ever do what the U.S. Supreme Court did in Kelo: allow politically powerful developers and industrialists to take ordinary citizens’ homes and businesses and use them for their own private purposes,” Guze said.