Be Afraid… Be Very Afraid of Eminent Domain [Commentary]

August 12, 2005

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the government can use eminent domain powers to take private property from one person and give it another person under the guise of a plan for “economic development”. This ruling redefines the authority of government to use the powerful tool of eminent domain. The landmark decision has sent shivers down the spine of those who strongly embrace the notion of “property rights”.

In essence, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Kelo vs. City of New London , ruled that government has the power through eminent domain to take any private property, regardless of its current use or purpose, and transfer it to another private person who may be in a better position to facilitate economic development. While I accept and embrace the notion of eminent domain in order to facilitate a public use such as the building of schools, roads, railroads, firehouses, police stations or other direct public purposes, it is difficult to accept the notation that one private person should have property taken from them to benefit another private person. The Supreme Court, in its decision, expanded the definition of “public use” to include “economic development”. As a result, by definition, then the government power of eminent domain becomes a power without limitation, without guidelines, and with extremely limited judicial review.

As a result of the above case, all private property, wherever located, is subject to being transferred to another private owner, so long as this new owner potentially upgrades that property. And, who decides which use better serves the “economic development” need? That decision is made by government. It is wrong for government to compel an individual to forfeit his or her property in favor of another property owner, because that government believes that the second person can produce a more potent economic development. The end result is government can take property from those who have few resources and transfer to those who have more resources.
This landmark decision is important and is a critical attack upon the rights we all have to own property. Presumably each property owner will be looking over his or her shoulder to ensure there is not another person or entity that could convince a local government that they could achieve a better economic impact in the area. This summer, as ranking member of the Planning and Zoning Committee, I will work within a bi-partisan manner to curb the effect this decision has on taking away real property from the citizens in the State of Connecticut.