Eminent Domain, or the governmental power to seize property without the owner’s consent, has been used throughout America for centuries. While many people do not even know that their government has the power to infringe on their right to own property, there have been many famous cases of eminent domain throughout history.
In the mid 1990’s, a widow from Las Vegas found herself in a devastating situation. Hoping to use the rent from commercial property her husband left her to fund her retirement, she was completely blindsided when the government intervened. Claiming that the property was “blighted” and unsightly, the government seized her property. When the woman tried to protest, the government said that she had missed her trial even though the woman was never informed that one was going to occur.
1999 saw eminent domain used in the city of Toledo, Ohio. Here, 83 well-maintained family homes and 16 thriving businesses were deemed “blighted” and seized. The government then took this land and sold it to Chrysler after they promised to bring 5,000 jobs to the area. When the plant opened they delivered on less than half of that number at a staggering 2,100.
In the early 2000’s, over 127 families in Hurst, Texas were told they could no longer live in their homes. With plans to expand a private mall, the government not only took their land but was able to overrule the several families that tried to resist the action in court.
This is even an issue that has been approved by the Supreme Court. In 2005 in New Haven, Connecticut the issue of eminent domain used to seize property for a private office building was challenged in our highest court. The court ruled that eminent domain could occur for private developers if there could be reasonable evidence to show that private use would increase revenue from tax and create jobs.
One of the most recent and notable cases of eminent domain has to do with the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Iowa Supreme Court rejected the use of eminent domain from the rulings in the New Haven Supreme Court case. They believed that you could not justify eminent domain for private use especially when it came to office buildings. However, the Iowa Supreme Court also ruled to allow the use of eminent domain for the pipeline because it would serve the public more than just an office building would.
This is one of the main issues with eminent domain: its flexibility. Not only is this issue subjective but it is also persuaded by the amount of money a private developer can bring into the economy therefore helping the government. True public use projects do not generate as much money as a private project because they involve more government aid.
Due to the judicial precedent set that allows eminent domain to be so adaptable, there is no clear line as to where it should end. When you hear these personal stories it is very hard to view this is a positive light.
Source: Dallas & Turner, PLLC