Eminent Domain Scrutinized

September 26, 2005
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LANSINGRepublican senators are pushing a proposal to curb the state’s eminent domain powers in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The bills were introduced by Majority Leader Ken Sikkema of Wyoming, along with Sens. Tony Stamas of Midland, Cameron Brown of Fawn River Township, and Judson Gilbert of Algonac. They promised speedy action.

The Supreme Court ruled this summer that a city in Connecticut could constitutionally seize private property and turn it over to a private developer to build an office complex. The court, in a 5-4 decision, also ruled that states and municipalities have the right to make their own laws regarding the seizure of private property.

In all cases, the government taking private property must pay the fair market value to the owners.

“In the process of eviscerating the Fifth Amendment, they gave credence to the Tenth Amendment, regarding states’ rights,” said Sikkema.

In Michigan, the state Supreme Court ruled last year that the use of eminent domain powers to transfer property to a private entity for economic development purposes doesn’t qualify as a legitimate public use. That decision reversed a 1981 precedent, in which the court allowed Detroit to level an entire neighborhood to make way for a General Motors Corp. plant.

The new bills include an amendment to the “public use” clause of the Michigan Constitution that would bar the transfer of seized property to private entities for their use.

“Personal property rights are one of the principles our nation was founded upon,” said Stamas. “Although the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled in favor of property owners in the past, we need this constitutional amendment to make sure those rights stay intact.”

Brown said the proposals would ban the taking of private property, with three exceptions: public necessity, such as a highway; for a public entity, such as a hospital; or for the protection of artifacts of public interest, such as an archaeological find.

The bills are likely to pass the Senate Transportation Committee, and come before the full Senate this fall. If approved by the Legislature, the constitutional amendment would be on the ballot in the 2006 election.

Sikkema said, “Few things are as important to the people as protecting their property against government seizure. I’m all for restricting this more. The greater danger here is too much government power.”     

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