How Bureaucrats View Eminent Domain, Part II


by Timothy Sandefur

USA Today carried this editorial by Donald J. Borut of the National League of Cities, which has all the usual misrepresentations and distortions bureaucrats use when talking about eminent domain. The best one, of course, is that "eminent domain is a last resort." Well of course it's only a last resort. A robber only shoots you as a last resort. This is just a polite way of saying "give us the property and nobody gets hurt." If a property owner doesn't want to sell, then they'll take the land, and call that a last resort.

Borut also claims that many eminent domain projects are "part of…multiphased and publicly scrutinized economic development projects begun well before the Kelo decision to eradicate blight." But what difference does it make if these things were "publicly scrutinized"? The public has no more right to take away an innocent person's home or business than does an individual robber. Like so many government officials, Borut sees property not as a right, but as a permission, given by the government, and revokable when the government decides. Your property isn't really yours—it's a tool for redevelopers like Borut, who have a vision of what to do with your land.

It's telling that Borut defends the condemnation of homes in Lakewood, Ohio. Here are examples of the properties that he calls "blighted." Taking away these homes and businesses and giving the land to private developers—that's what he calls "prudent."

But most telling is that Borut never mentions the Constitution. For him, the question isn't whether the Constitution allows government to seize land for economic development—he only cares if it's a "good idea." As James Madison wrote, "the great temptation of 'utility,' brought home to local feelings, is the most dangerous snare for Constitutional orthodoxy." Even if it were a good idea to take land from some people and give it to others, Mr. Borut, it would not be constitutional.

The "story" that deserves to be told is how government officials think of themselves as the engines of progress, and your land—our homes and businesses, our farms and churches—as the fuel that they'll take to run that engine. Yet the reality is that government never creates economic progress. Government is simply force—all it can do is redistribute the wealth and the opportunities created by other people. And Borut calls that "hope."