8/11/2004

Eminent Domain Revisited

The Michigan Supreme Court has overturned its ruling that allowed the government to forcibly buy private land for a General Motors plant.

Unadorned by legal obfuscation, the 1981 Poletown case said the government could, at any time, use eminent domain for the economic purposes of a private entity. The standard was public benefit (jobs, taxes). The means was government as bully boy.

The Michigan court said this is intolerable: "... (I)f one's ownership of private property is forever subject to the government's determination that another private party would put one's land to better use, then the ownership of real property is perpetually threatened ... ."

In the instant case, owners of property scattered throughout hundreds of acres acquired by the government for a private commercial park stood in the way of what is claimed would be spectacular public benefit.

But was it a public "use"? Absolutely not.

Private property trumps the collective. Government is limited -- and for very good reason. We've seen the treacherous threat of eminent domain raised in unrealized plans for Downtown Pittsburgh, and how it presaged a tyranny of the incompetent.

The threat itself is a useful tool for petty, scheming tyrants if the courts will not, like Michigan's has, render their threats hollow.

Praise be private property and those who defend it.

© 2004 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
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California Eminent Domain