Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eminent Domain

The practice of eminent domain is used to legally obtain private land for public projects like expanding highways or building railroads. It is not designed for private enterprise to profit from, even if, for example, it is defined as a "public good" like creating jobs. Even President George W. Bush got that and issued an Executive Order a year after the Supreme Court in the Kelo case ruled otherwise.

Private investors should not be allowed to use the government of a state or local municipality to bully property owners into selling their land away. In Mississippi, however, Governor Haley Barbour vetoed a bill last week that would protect property owners from this practice. Barbour defends the veto by saying it is necessary to broaden the eminent domain provision in order to compete for large economic development projects.

Fortunately, the Mississippi House voted to override the veto and hopefully the Senate will do the same. The high profile case that stuck in the minds of lawmakers was the Archie family's resistance to Nissan in Canton. As the Nissan plant was being built, they decided they needed to expand their buffer zone from the original plan. This put the Archie family's land in the mix, including the family cemetery. The Archie's put up a fight that enlisted civil rights groups and Washington, DC attorneys and beat Nissan in court.

After that case, legislation to protect property owners like the Archie's were filed and co-sponsored by a unique coalition of the Conservative Caucus and the Black Caucus. This legislative session, one of those bills made it through the process and landed on the governor's desk. Now he wants to ignore the wishes of his constituents in the name of profits.

Private investors can purchase land the old fashioned way, through fair negotiation. The weight of the government should not be brought to bear in those negotiations, regardless of how vigorously one argues that profiteering is a public good.