End the misuse of eminent domain: Mansfield (OH) News Journal, 3/1/05

The U.S. Supreme Court may decide whether eminent domain can be used to secure private property for private uses.

Private property must be protected.

There is a growing fear for property owners that their property may not be as sacred as it once was.

And the U.S. Supreme Court is at the center of what might be considered a state's rights issue over eminent domain, the government act of converting privately owned land into public land, subject to reasonable compensation.

We aren't sure where it will end, but recently there's been a new and disturbing twist to this issue.

In years past eminent domain was used only to secure private land for public purposes, such as building highways through cities, building schools, parks, buildings for water plants and other facilities that would benefit the public.

That made sense. But now there is a case before the high court of an attempt to secure private property for private development. We think that's crossing the line.

A developer in New London, Conn., wants the city to use eminent domain to further a privately financed project.

The nation's high court struggled last week to balance the rights of property owners against the goals of town officials who want to sweep away old neighborhoods and turn the land over to private developers.

Riverfront residents who are suing the town of New London say their working-class neighborhood is slated for destruction primarily to build an office complex that will benefit a pharmaceutical company that built its research and development headquarters nearby.

The justices expressed sympathy for the longtime residents. At the same time, they questioned whether they have the authority to stop the town's plans.

The outcome could have significant implications. Where does the public good begin and end? We're sure there will be more court cases, litigation and a continued gray area over what can be declared under eminent domain.

In recent years, there have been more than 10,000 instances of private property being threatened with condemnation or actually condemned by government for private use, according to the Institute for Justice. The group represents the New London residents who filed the case.

We can only wait for the high court ruling and hope private property ownership continues to be protected.

Mansfield News Journal: www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com