State Misuse of Eminent Domain Must Stop

February 10, 2015

By State Senator Joe Markley

The right to property is fundamental, which is why eminent domain is such a sensitive topic. The power of government to seize private property for public use treads on the sensibilities of every freedom loving American. Needless to say, government should only use eminent domain when it is completely necessary, and then, only within rigid legal boundaries.

Perhaps the most notorious misuse of eminent domain in American history took place right here in Connecticut, less than a decade ago. In Kelo v New London, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that property could be taken from one private party and granted to another, so long as it served the public interest.

As it turned out, no one’s interests were served by the seizure, as a long-established neighborhood was turned into a vacant lot. The decision became a rallying-point for supporters of personal liberty and limited government.

Unfortunately, history now repeats itself. The Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) recently sequestered the operating rights (called “certificates of public convenience and necessity”) of four private bus companies along the New Britain to Hartford corridor. In so doing, the department drastically expanded the definition of what it can seize through eminent domain to include “intangible property.”

This disturbingly broad interpretation of eminent domain takes us down a dangerous path, threatening our right to be secure in our possessions, tangible or intangible.

The bus companies rightly challenged the DOT in court, but the presiding judge referee ruled that the licenses to operate certain bus routes were “facilities”—since they facilitate doing business—and therefore subject to eminent domain. (Connecticut’s statue says the state may use eminent domain to seize, “land, buildings, equipment, and facilities.”)

Common sense dictates that in this case the word “facilities” refers to tangible, physical property. For instance, a manufacturing plant would constitute a facility we could all recognize. If the license to operate a bus route can be a facility, what else can “facility” mean? Are all contracts facilities? Is any intellectual property—including a patent—technically speaking, a “facility” which can be seized via eminent domain?

In response to the DOT’s overreach and the subsequent court decision, I have submitted a bill to amend the state’s eminent domain law (S.B. 151). The purpose is to clarify that “facilities” must be tangible, real property. I hope to persuade my colleagues in the General Assembly to support my efforts to protect our rights to private property.

This is an important issue, and if you would like to speak out you can email me at [email protected] or call (860) 842-1421. I also invite you to visit my website,, where you can sign up for video updates on the situation at the State Capitol.