What Eminent Domain is and Why Its Important to Know About it

June 21, 2014

What is Eminent Domain?

Eminent domain is the power for the government to take private property for public use. Over the past few years eminent domain has been used by plenty of municipalities around the United States. It has been used in the past to build government buildings like schools and court houses. Recently eminent domain has been used for more general projects that “benefit” the city, but are done by private developers in order to obtain profit for not only the government, but for investors as well.

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Kelo v. City of New London Case

The Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London in 2005 showed how ugly eminent domain can be. Susette Kelo of New London, Connecticut sued the City Of New London after receiving a notice that her home and many others would be demolished for a new private development. This order was a notice of eminent domain that was to be completed by the city. Kelo and other residents were infuriated. Kelo’s claim was that eminent domain under the 5th amendment was to be used only for the building of public buildings.

The Supreme Court ended up siding with the City of New London stating that the development that was to be completed on Kelo’s land was necessary and would benefit the city. The amendment actually does state that eminent domain is to be used for public use and benefit.  Most of the nation was shocked by the verdict. It seemed like the amendment was generalized and the rules were stretched and abused by the government. The government was essentially taking Kelo’s land to sell it to private developers who were in turn going to pay taxes back to the city for years to come. The fact that the city was going to make profit made it seem alright, but the fact that private companies were going to make money off a property that was “stolen” seemed just wrong.

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After the case, the Supreme Court allowed states to enact their own laws regarding eminent domain. Many states made strict laws that only allowed eminent domain to be allowed for public purpose buildings, like schools and post offices. Iowa introduced new legislation in 2006 that prohibited local governments from taking homes and small businesses for economic development.

These changes are impacting the livability of cities in various ways. Residents of cities in states with stricter laws feel more confident about living close to downtown areas because they know that eminent domain is less likely to happen to them. The opposite is the case for places like Hollywood, California, where businesses and homes are being taken by eminent domain for private developments to this day.  The short clip narrated by Drew Carey on eminent domain in Hollywood proves this.

Personal Views on Eminent Domain Usage

I personally believe that eminent domain is a great idea when it is used with good intentions. It was created to benefit municipalities by allowing them to build public buildings closer to downtown or in certain areas where development already existed. Iowa City recently halted a proposal that would use eminent domain to seize land from NCS Pearson to connect Interstate 80 to a new office park. I believe this was the right choice because the developments that were to be built on the land were not entirely for “public improvement”.

Photos of Eminent Political Cartoons

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Works Cited

Carey, Drew. "Reason Foundation." Reason Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2014.

"KELO v. CITY OF NEW LONDON." Kelo v. City of New London. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014.

"Our View: Iowa City Makes Dubious Use of Eminent Domain." Iowa City Press Citizen. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2014.

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