Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Word of the Month for August 2012: Eminent Domain

This month's definition is more of a phrase than an actual word, and it is: EMINENT DOMAIN.  I selected this because we've had a slew of questions about eminent domain in the last few weeks and people are generally always freaked out about the concept of government having power to take you house at the drop of a hat.  

According to Black's Law Dictionary (West), eminent domain is defined as: the inherent power of a governmental entity to take privately owned property and convert it to public use (subject to reasonable compensation for the taking). The concept of eminent domain came to the forefront in 2005 when the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005). Basically, what Kelo said is that governments can take a person's property and give it to another private person to further economic development.  What this means is that governments no longer have to use the property merely for public use - they just have to say the property is going to benefit the community economically.  Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?  I mean, what with having your home torn down to help the whole community.  Yeah, real fuzzy!

Let me elucidate the concept of eminent domain with a simple example.  Say you've been living in the house you were born in.  When you hit the ripe old age of 36, your local government decides to give your property to Donald Frump to build a casino because Mr. Frump says it would bring jobs and tax revenue to the area.  Even if it doesn't bring jobs and tax revenue to the area, government can still take your house, tear it down, and build Frump's casino.

Now, I'm not saying that when you hit the ripe old age of 36 that your local government is going to tear down your home to make way for some inane government project. What I am saying is that the very nature of government is insanity and psychosis - so what you might want to do (before it all hits the fan) is read up on eminent domain. Might I suggest you take a look at Nichols on Eminent Domain (Matthew/Bender).  Might I also suggest you look at The Law of Zoning and Planning (West) and Eminent Domain Use and Abuse: Kelo in Context (ABA).
The important thing to remember is that your local county law librarian is always ready to help you find whatever it is you are looking for...and now that you are sufficiently paranoid about all things government and abuse, we can help you find something about that, too!