Let’s say you own a home, like many people in this country do. Let’s go further and say that you own the property completely. Maybe you had a mortgage, but it’s completely paid off. The property is yours.
Well… as Jon Stewart is fond of saying, not so much. If your state government decides that your property is in a location better suited for a road, park or school, it will try to buy your propoerty from you. That’s fine, of course, let them make an offer. However, if you do not wish to sell, the government can exercise eminent domain and seize your property.
(Let’s forget for a moment that many Americans live where they live only because many generations ago natives were forcefully uprooted when they migrated to this land, and many the natives believed that the land cannot be owned in the sense our culture understands. But the immigrants didn’t want “savages” to get in the way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.)
So the state government can take your property, but only if when doing so plan on creating something public, like a highway or school (like the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says), right? Correct, until today.
The Supreme Court ruled [decision and dissention text and SCOTUSblog entry] that the government can exercise eminent domain in any situation where there is an economic benefit for the state. Some things that provide an economic benefit are hotels, casinos (if legal in the state), offices, and malls. The state simply transfers the power of eminent domain to a corporate entity.
This is what has already happened in New London, Connecticut.
If you’re interested in eminent domain issues, there’s a blog tracking news around the country: Eminent Domain Watch. And added later, here is CNN’s take on the decision. Also appended, Gothamist shows how this decision could affect New Yorkers.
Updated February 6, 2012 and originally published June 23, 2005.