Property Rights vs. Government Wrongs; Old Dominion Curbs Eminent Domain Abuse
Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Residents of the Old Dominion turned blue earlier this week, returning President Obama to the White House and sending Tim Kaine to the Senate. One small consolation is that 3 out of 4 Virginians also took a stand to defend one of the most fundamental constitutional guarantees.
The right to own and profit from private property has been under concerted assault from politicians and interest groups seeking new ways to take what you have so they can use it themselves. Now mayors and county boards will have to think twice before trying to take away homes belonging to residents.
Voters amended the commonwealth's Bill of Rights to prohibit state and local officials from using the power of eminent domain to enrich private developers. They no longer may cite job creation, tax revenue or economic development as a public use excuse for takings schemes. The amendment significantly strengthens a 2007 law that permitted eminent domain only when public interests outweighed private gain - an inherently subjective and unreliable balancing test.
Virginia becomes the latest state to take on the wrongheaded 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. There, a sharply divided court sided with New London, Conn., on the question of whether the municipality could use eminent domain to grab 91 acres of privately owned waterfront property to hand over to a private developer. The property to be condemned, a neighborhood called Fort Trumbull, was a middle-class community, not a depressed slum. The taking was not for a highway or a bridge but a redevelopment scheme the local politicians had decided would spruce up the town. The projected broad economic benefits of redistributing the land made it fall under constitutionally approved public use. …