How can conservatives embrace eminent domain? (February 18, 2016)

Let’s discuss the background and history of eminent domain.

The concept of the government exercising their police power to seize private property goes back to the 1700s in France. The French also pioneered the concept in code of just compensation.

Fast forward to the writers of the U.S. Constitution who created the 5th Amendment which requires just compensation to the owner of the private property to be taken. The 14th Amendment provides for due process under which the cause for eminent domain, a right granted to most states through their own state constitutions, must be followed and again emphasizes that just compensation must be awarded the private property owner.

The rules to invoke eminent domain are fairly simple: (1) private property (2) must be taken (3) for public use (4) and with just compensation.

In the Republican debate before the New Hampshire Primary, developer and candidate Donald Trump was accused of using eminent domain to help take private land upon which he built a hotel in Atlantic City. This is the type of use of eminent domain that Constitutional Conservatives abhor. Trump’s response, which was correct, was that most bridges, roads, overpasses and large public projects would have never been built without the proper use of eminent domain by governmental authorities.

The city fathers in Atlantic City decided that the proposed tax revenue from a Trump hotel was in the public interest which allowed them to condemn and attempt to seize a piece of private property, reportedly from a little old lady, to make sure the development moved forward. It must be noted that the little old lady did prevail in court and the city and Trump did not get her land through eminent domain.

Now that we have a picture of the process and the legitimate reasons why eminent domain is a useful tool for local governments, we should focus on how the meaning of in the public interest can be interpreted.

There is a move in California to take all utilities out of private hands as natural gas, water and electricity are increasingly seen as necessities of life that should not be bought and sold as commodities between global corporations. The Town of Apple Valley isn’t the first to take a path towards owning their own resources, nor will they be the last.

In my view, a governmental entity should never seize private property only to turn around and resell or convey ownership to a for-profit entity no matter what the justification. The one reason we should want control of our resources is so that voters could have a say in the future use and control of those resources through their elected officials.

Can conservatives embrace eminent domain? Ask yourself that while you drive under the overpasses that span our local freeway and the nice off ramps that serve them. None of them would be there except for the use of eminent domain. Yes, when eminent domain is done right and not abused, it is a useful tool to serve the public interest and is not at odds with the core principals of conservatism.

Source: Pat Orr, Apple Valley Review,