Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reader Request: Eminent Domain

To put it bluntly, I whole heatedly disagree with all (at least that I can think of) cases of the government taking private land for the “benefit” of the public. I am willing to acknowledge that there are times when the law can be used to maximize the greatest good. However, I’m not confident that public officials have the self-control to use it in just those cases. As for the case in question, my main concern is over the issue of “fair market value.” Now I don’t have any real estate experience, but I am confident that the actual value of something is meaningless unless you can agree to sell and buy it at that price. I’m sure the city officials believed they were offering a fair price, but do you really think the owner’s of the land thought so? It was apparently worth more than that to them or they would have sold it without having to be strong armed. In my opinion, if the benefits to the city were so large (which it seems they were), then the owners of the property should have been paid more for their good investment. There was surely some price they would have sold it for, it was probably just cheaper to lobby the government to do it for you.


  1. H,
    Like you, I kinda wish that there was no eminent domain clause in the constitution. But since there is, I favor using it under a very limited set of circumstances. The founders would have been appalled and aghast at the Kelo decision. In the Kelo decision, no one claimed that the properties were blighted. The Municipal government just believed that it could make better use of the property. You could drive a train (wreck) through that decision. It means that government does not have to act in "good faith" when dealing with homeowners. You don't have to really negotiate that hard. You can always use the courts to coerce homeowners to sell. FMV is a very sticky wicket because FMV does not tend to account for potential future value very well. In limited circumstances, I am open to using a "blight" standard for truly neglected properties that hold down values for other property owners. The hold-out problem is truly a problem. But markets are the best way to resolve it.

    The history of the use of eminent domain in G'ville is one that I have wondered about. As a society and culture, we ought to hold property rights as nearly sacrosanct.


  2. Ok I'll step back for a second. You're right, if it's in the Constitution I don't think we should go around changing it. So I could support some limited use, probably mostly for road building and what not. But to ensure that people's rights trump public policy, I might institute some kind of "double fair market value" payment law.

  3. Graydon10:22 PM

    I'm in support of very limited support of eminent domain, such as when there are neglected properties and the need for a road or other public need. I think having a blanket rule of double fair market value is pretty unfair, so it seems to me that a good way to solve it would be for the courts to assign a third party mediator work out a fair price to both parties, with fair market value as the basis.

  4. But my biggest concern is that the "fair market value" does not account how much the owner personally values the property. There is a reason they haven't sold it fair and square? Even if the value is sentimental, the owner should be compensated. I guess where we differ is I think the market will work it out (even if working it out means the property doesn't get taken). And I would personally say a person's right to have a "neglected" property trumps someone else's right to have a nice neighborhood.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.