'Eminent Domain' Limits Are Needed
(Wheeling WV) News-Register, 10/4/04

Editorial Opinion

Down through the years, the courts have twisted and bent the Constitution to the point that it would be virtually unrecognizable in many respects to the nation's Founders. Now, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to restore some of the safeguards contained in the original document - on an issue of direct interest to some Ohio Valley residents.

The question of how much authority government has to use "eminent domain" proceedings to obtain property has been in the news locally because of economic development proposals. But it isn't just here in the Ohio Valley that the issue has taken on critical importance for some people.

Supreme Court justices have agreed to hear a case from New London, Conn., involving use of "eminent domain" authority. There, the city plans to take some homes to clear the way for a private development including a hotel, health club and offices. Affected residents say the Constitution doesn't give their city the authority to do that.

The Fifth Amendment allows government to take property for "public use." Usually, when owners refuse to sell their property voluntarily, "eminent domain" proceedings allow courts to set "fair" values - which owners are required to accept.

The nation's founders viewed "public use" narrowly, such as for highways and similar purposes. But "public use" has been taken by some local governments to mean "public benefit" - sometimes in very general terms.

We hope Supreme Court justices set the record straight by restricting severely the meaning of "public use." Limits are needed on how governments can use "eminent domain" proceedings.

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