You work your entire life to buy a piece of land and build a family that will last generations. Your children’s children will eventually grow up on that land, unless your state says otherwise. People have been fighting their state about eminent domain issues for centuries and my question is; is eminent domain ethically acceptable? This topic is important because of the way it could affect you, your family, and your community. I will be presenting the arguments for and against this thesis economically or financially so you have the opportunity to answer the question for yourself.
Diving into the arguments before understanding eminent domain thoroughly would put us a disadvantage. Eminent domain in its truest definition is, “The power of the state to take private property for public use with payment of compensation to the owner”. Ultimately, if the state feels like they need to build a public park and your property is in that area they can seize your land. There are many instances where eminent domain may come into conversation, not just a land situation. In the court case of Penn Central vs New York for example is an interesting idea of eminent domain. This case was about compensation but was also about the air space in a certain area of which their property resided. Eminent domain is a complicated subject often concluding in court cases that find their way into state courts and even the supreme court in extreme circumstances. Sometimes the government has even done some shady things to stretch the powers of eminent domain for their benefit.
Although, eminent domain may have many controversial issues showing up in state and federal courts. The arguments for eminent domain being ethically acceptable is that its power is limited by two restrictions. As with any federal action, it is said that the use of eminent domain must be “necessary and proper” in Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution. Secondly, it must obey the last clause of the Fifth Amendment, which says, “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”. Meaning, the states use of eminent domain must coincide with federal interpretations of public use and just compensation. Following these restrictions, eminent domain is necessary in making improvements to a city or governmental infrastructure. A single person can defer the government from taking their property which would lead to community projects not being possible. The public can benefit from eminent domain if projects that the government wants to implement are successful.
An example of this is the state seizing farm land to accommodate a new state highway that would shorten the travel time and ease traffic problems. Eminent domain may be a necessary evil when it comes to improving our society as a whole. A few example of the things we wouldn’t have without eminent domain are: Washington DC, The Golden Gate Bridge, and almost every railroad, highway, and major airport in the United States. The final argument that eminent domain could be ethical is the financial aspect. In the Penn Central vs New York City case Penn Central ultimately wanted to construct a high rise building on top of Grand Central Terminal. They wanted to this to attract more business because the terminal was barely breaking even. The terminal being a significant structure to the city, Penn Central claimed that it was entitled compensation. They were denied this request but what is shows you is that for businesses eminent domain may be financially beneficial. The state is required to compensate you for the price of the business when taking the property. Meaning a company could a fresh start somewhere new while being financially stable, if the government was to evoke eminent domain in that certain situation. Knowing the reasons why eminent domain might be ethical, let’s look at why it may not be.
Eminent domain has had a powerful long history, included in the Constitution as a means of government appropriating private property for public use. However, the government at certain levels have begun to stretch their powers according to, Gennady Stolyarov on The Rational Argumentator. He says that these powers take private party’s land for the benefit of another, if the other is a larger business that has the potential of bringing in greater tax revenues. The government has shown in cases like the Kelo v. New London. This case is a case decided in 2005 at the supreme court that affirmed the seizure of private property. The government seized the property in the name of economic development. The courts ruled that it is consistent with the “Public Use Clause” of the Fifth Amendment. The court muddied up the waters on the meaning of “public use” which was ultimately used as “public purpose”. The city invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. The courts ruled in favor of the state. It was clear that the state used its eminent domain powers to
take away private property and sell it to private developers for the purpose of creating new jobs and increasing tax revenue. The policy of eminent domain has, in this case and others, been used with blatant power hungry justifications. The other thing to think about when talking about if eminent domain is ethical or not is the financial aspect. The policy of eminent domain states that the government must provide “market value” for the private property that is condemned by the government. In many cases this is not sufficient compensation in such a deep personal investment especially in someone’s home and land.
In conclusion, eminent domain is clearly being used to such an extent that it is surpassing what our founding fathers considered. Like in the Kelo v. New London case, did our founding fathers who wrote the Constitution intend for that to happen. On the other hand it is beneficial to our society and we may not have some things we have today if eminent domain didn’t exist like the golden gate bridge and airports. Conclusively, is eminent domain a necessary evil or an old concept that has been taken too far that the government and states are abusing.