Few phrases in the American lexicon seem as ominous, regal and potentially frightening as "eminent domain." And that's as it should be. The government's power to condemn and forcibly take a person's private property, even if compensation is paid, isn't something to be taken lightly or used in a frivolous or indiscriminate way. The right to one's property is a bedrock American principle. It should be waived only under narrow and rare circumstances - and when the power of eminent domain is invoked, it should be for clearly recognizable public benefit.
Private property rights are today under siege in many ways. But perhaps no more so than in the misuse of eminent domain by government officials dealing favors to private companies and interests. Evidence of these abuses has been anecdotal and fragmented until now. Thanks to the publication of Steven Greenhut's "Abuse of Power: How the government misuses eminent domain," we now have the most comprehensive, up-to-date look yet at this American scandal. Published by Seven Locks Press, it's available through amazon.com.
Greenhut is a senior editorial writer and columnist at a sister paper, The Orange County (Calif.) Register. He casts a wide net in trying to get a handle on a national problem. "Eminent domain creates an avenue for corruption," Greenhut points out, "as government officials get to play God with other people's neighborhoods and businesses, and can therefore punish enemies and reward friends."
"Abuse of Power" not only effectively illustrates the problem, but includes sensible recommendations about what can be done to curb government's land-grabbing enthusiasms. They include: requiring that any condemning agency undertake a rigorous cost-benefit analysis before using eminent domain; provide pre-taking appraisals to property owners; ensure judicial review of whether the taking is truly for a "public use;" making jury trials available in contested cases; and requiring full compensation for a condemnee's legal fees.
The Michigan Supreme Court recently sought to narrow the definition of "public good" to its original meaning, but it's far from certain the ruling will end such abuses nationwide. Surely, Greenhut's book will help strengthen the case for doing so.
Freedom ENC Communications
Kinston Free Press: www.kinston.com