What are the consequences of the new 'eminent domain' rules by the supreme court


"The dispute between the homeowners and the city officials became a classic test of government power versus individual rights. It pitted a community’s hopes for economic rebirth against an individual’s right to keep one’s home.

Economic development emerged as the clear winner.

The high court’s opinion goes further than before in allowing the government to invoke its “eminent domain” and to seize private property from unwilling sellers.

The Constitution says government may take private property “for public use” if it pays the owners “just compensation.” Originally, public use meant the land was used for roads, canals or military bases. In the 19th century, railroads were permitted to take private lands because they served the public.

In the mid-20th century, the court said officials could condemn homes and stores in “blighted” areas as part of a redevelopment plan. That 1954 decision helped trigger various urban renewal projects across the nation.

In today’s decision, the court went a step further and said officials need not claim they were condemning blighted properties or clearing slums. Now, as long as officials hope to create jobs or raise tax collections, they can seize the homes of unwilling sellers, the court said. This “public purpose” is a “public use” of the land, the court said in Kelo vs. New London."

So what does this mean? Does this mean anytime a company wants to build something they can, or do they have to look at other locations before taking over private property?

Since when did government need to justify eminent domain? :confused:

No cite, but it was my understanding that prior to this decision, eminent domain only applied to taking land for public goods such as a road (or stretched to urban redevelopment). With this decision, eminent domain can be used to take land and give it to private developers in order to increase the tax base.

I’m torn on this one. On one hand, it’s good that the government can develop public facilities and other community resources easier. On the other hand, it opens the door to abuses by private developers. I’ve seen cases of companies wanting the govt. to condemn land and sell it to them so that they could improve the value of the land and provide jobs. Basically, they wanted the govt to be their thugs and clear out those pesky citizens for them. Oh, and of course, the govt using the eminent dowmain costs the developer nothing whereas acquiring the land privately would be just too darn expensive.

I believe that this decision merely clarifies the law as it has existed for some time, so I don’t know that the consequences will necessarily be that visible.

No – companies can’t condemn property. Only governments can. So if a company wants a site, they have to convince the government that it’s worth the polticial enmity that will arise if they take the land through eminent domain. And even then, the government can only take the property if it gives just compensation.


I’m not a lawyer, but I think this is a very sloppy decision at best. The way I see it, this particular use of eminent domain is wrong no matter how “blighted” a neighborhood is. I think a constitutional ammendment is needed to clarify that eminent domain can only be used when the land is going directly to public use, whether it’s a park or a military base, and the government must state what the use of the land will be. IMHO, this restriction will only be restoring how eminent domain had been used for years.

Developers are not going to lose out if they are not allowed to use eminent domain via of the government. They buy land on the open market all the time. It’s only fair if the developer gets the land on the open market.

I am so pissed. :mad: I’m going to write to my congressmen.

And then the government presumably sells the land to the developer, so the developer certainly doesn’t get it for free.

Still sucks. Basically it means you can live in your own house / operate your own business as long as nobody with money and political clout doesn’t want it. And I would question whether the “just compensation” always matches the market value of the place, or whether it always gives the ripped-off owner sufficient funds to restart elsewhere. I know if my house were seized for its tax value, for example, that’s nowhere near the true marketable value.

What peeves me about the whole thing is that it really can be misused to kick out functional owners (i.e., people who are paying the bills, maintaining the property, not selling drugs, maintaining a viable business etc.) in favor of developers who will simply bring more profit to the city. Governments are supposed to serve their constituents, not “maximize profits”. :mad:

First, I am 100% against the Supremes on this one. All a developer has to do now is promise some jobs and grease the right palms to get the land he needs. Your great-grandfather built your house himself? Tough darts, farmer. Megalo-Mart will bring in a hundred jobs. Here’s a check for the low-ball value of your property. Be outa here tomorrow.

Second - and please, Hypno-Toad, do not take this as an attack on you; You just provided a handy quote - I find the attitude that Government action = good and Private Sector = bad equally disturbing.

I’ve seen quite a few government-created “business zones” and “industrial parks” languishing at about 10% occupancy that did nothing but put sheckels in the pockets of political cronies.

Eminent domain has always been a two or three part process. The government must first purchase the land, and then second, develope it. In-between they may have to tear down, grade, or subdivide or consolidate the land. But actually building housing is not a government department so it must either contract it out or have it taken over by a private concern.
It was not unusual for some of the eminent domain cases a situation where the government bought the land then turned it over to a private development with guarantees that 25% would be sold as low-income, 50% as medium and 25% luxury. :rolleyes: :cool: :smack:

I’m taking over this thread (for the benefit of the public, of course) and moving it to Great Debates. The OP will receive fair market compensation.


First, I am 100% against the Supremes on this one. All a developer has to do now is promise some jobs and grease the right palms to get the land he needs. Your great-grandfather built your house himself? Tough darts, farmer. Megalo-Mart will bring in a hundred jobs. Here’s a check for the low-ball value of your property. Be outa here tomorrow.


My understanding is that in eminent domain cases, the government often pays much more than the property is really worth, just to make sure there are no issues about “just compensation”.

Also, if someone really does have an issue about this, he can take the government to court.


Um, I think the point of this decision is that the court has to side with the local gov’t now. Broad authority given to local governments, who “know better what’s going on than some federal judge,” etc.

What’s the legality of dumping toxic waste on your own property, in anticipation of an unwanted eminent domain seizure?

Hmm well I’ve always wanted to open a supermarket, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s house is prime real-estate… I’m sure she won’t mind.

The court may have to side with the local authority when it comes to determining whether something is “public use”. They don’t have to side with the local authority when it comes to determing whether “just compensation” has been paid. That’s a separate issue.


What would stop a town/city from forcing a senior citizen out of their house because they are entitled to a senior citizen discounted property tax, so that a person who is not entitled to that discount would move in?

This is the first time I recall siding with Scalia and Thomas against Souter and Ginsburg. I’m pretty appalled.

While I recognize that the concept of eminent domain (wherein the government transfers ownership from the private sector to the public sector) is rife with potential for abuse, I think it also opens up a lot of possibilities that otherwise are unavailable–for example, the ability to create uninterrupted tracts of wilderness necessary for certain large animals (hey, a fellow can dream, can’t he? I don’t want to have to resort to interstates as a point in favor of eminent domain).

However, the government transference of land from one private individual to another private individual seems rife with the potential for abuse, without any plausible benefits.

If the property rights zealots construct a Constitutional Amendment restricting eminent domain such that it may only be exercised to transfer from the private to the public (perhaps with a rule allowing its transfer to the private sector after a suitable period–say, 100 years), then they’ll have my support.


I’m going to argue that really, not much is going to change, and that the Supreme Court’s opinion is going to have exactly the same effect that their silence had prior to it. States have in fact been doing this for a long time; in Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit, 304 N.W.2d 455 (1981), the Michigan Supreme Court said neither the state or federal constitutions stood in the way of the city bulldozing an entire neighborhood and selling it to GM to build a plant. Other states followed suit citing Poletown as persuasive precedent until Michigan reversed itself in 2004 in County of Wayne v. Hathcock. The Kelo decision will just give states that were already following the rule established in Poletown a clear federal precedent, and states that don’t want to follow Poletown (including Michigan, ironically) can justify doing so by the greater protections offered by their state constitutions.

Apparently, on your wedding night, your Congressional Representative gets to sleep with your new wife.

For what it’s worth, the (front-page) article on this decision that appeared in my local newpaper points out that “At least eight states—Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina, and Washington—forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight. Other states either expressly allow a taking for private economic purposes or have not spoken clearly on the question.”

So the consequences may well vary from state to state.