The government’s authority to take private property without the owner’s consent is a terrible and awesome power. Aware of this, the nation’s founders placed two key restrictions on its exercise: that government shall not take property unless it is for a valid public use and just compensation is paid.
But those limits are only as protective as the courts are willing to meaningfully enforce them. Take, for example, the public use requirement. That restriction is supposed to police against powerful private interests using the government’s power to circumvent the private market to take private property for their own private uses. But often, courts allow private parties to direct or influence eminent domain decisions in the name of economic development. The best example of such abuse is the recent decision Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), in which the United States Supreme Court held that the city could lawfully condemn 115 privately-owned properties and homes in the hopes that private interests would redevelop the neighborhood into an office park with hotels and restaurants, resulting in more property taxes and jobs for the community.
Hoping to avoid another Kelo, PLF filed an amicus brief asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to enforce the public use restriction in the case, St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District v. Violet Dock Port, Inc., LLC. There, an appellate court upheld the port district’s decision to condemn Violet Dock Port’s property and on-going business in order to hand it over to a competitor business—in the name of economic development. However, PLF’s brief argues that the economic development rationale is frequently used to circumvent the constitutional prohibition against private takings.