Donald Tump told a Fox News anchor this past week that eminent domain is wonderful and it is perfectly acceptable to take someone’s private property and hand it over to someone else if it means creating jobs and making things better for the collective public welfare.
“I think eminent domain for massive projects, for instance, you’re going to create thousands of jobs, and you have somebody that’s in the way, and you pay that person far more — don’t forget, eminent domain, they get a lot of money, and you need a house in a certain location, because you’re going to build this massive development that’s going to employ thousands of people, or you’re going to build a factory, that without this little house, you can’t build the factory — I think eminent domain is fine,” Trump said.
He was basically agreeing with the wrong-headed majority of justices in the 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London, which held that the city of New London could take private property if the new owners would generate more tax revenue. I did not think this country was established on the principle that the citizens are merely cash cows to be milked by their government masters.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the Kelo opinion:
“The City has carefully formulated an economic development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including – but by no means limited to – new jobs and increased tax revenue. As with other exercises in urban planning and development, the City is endeavoring to coordinate a variety of commercial, residential, and recreational uses of land, with the hope that they will form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. To effectuate this plan, the City has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of our review, it is appropriate for us, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”
The public purpose was to increase tax revenue?
All rights begin with property rights. All other rights, such as freedom of speech and religion, depend on owning a place to stand and practice those rights.
Apparently Trump would have liked to have been on the receiving end of a few eminent domain decisions. “I think eminent domain is wonderful, if you’re building a highway, and you need to build, as an example, a highway, and you’re going to be blocked by a holdout, or, in some cases, it’s a holdout — just so you understand, nobody knows this better than I do, because I built a lot of buildings in Manhattan, and you’ll have 12 sites and you’ll get 11 and you’ll have the one holdout and you end up building around them and everything else, okay?” Trump said. “So, I know it better than anybody.”
For Trump it is all about the money and only about the money. “It’s not right! It’s not right,” he bleated. “Look, they get, the money — you know the way they talk, people would say ‘Oh, it’s turned over.’ It’s turned over for four or five, six, 10 times sometimes what it’s worth! People pay them a fortune. But sometimes you have people that want to hold out just for the — most of the time, I will say, I’ve done a lot of outparcels, I call them outparcels. Most of the time, they just want money, okay? It’s very rarely that they say ‘I love my house. I love my house. It’s the greatest thing ever.’ Because these people can go buy a house now that’s five times bigger, in a better location. So eminent domain, when it comes to jobs, roads, the public good, I think it’s a wonderful thing, I’ll be honest with you. And remember, you’re not taking property, you know, the way you asked the question, the way other people — you’re paying a fortune for that property. Those people can move two blocks away into a much nicer house.”
Sandra Day O’Connor anticipated the likes of the Donald in her Kelo dissent:
“Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. ‘[T]hat alone is a just government,’ wrote James Madison, ‘which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.’”
The right of the individual must be protected from land grabbing socialists no matter how well intentioned they might be.
It also turns out there are practical problems with decisions like Kelo as well as philosophical.
New London seized the homes in question so Pfizer could expand its pharmaceutical operations. Instead the plant was closed and the land stands vacant a decade later.