Sold Down the River

How Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour sabotaged eminent domain reform

Since the Supreme Court's notorious 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which allowed that municipality to seize private property on behalf of the Pfizer Corporation, 43 states have passed laws protecting property rights against Kelo-style eminent domain abuse. Mississippi is not one of those states.

But that nearly changed in March 2009 when the Mississippi legislature voted overwhelmingly in support of a proposed law which would have guaranteed that "the right of eminent domain shall not be exercised for the purpose of taking or damaging privately owned real property for private development or for a private purpose; or for enhancement of tax revenue; or for transfer to a person, nongovernmental entity, public-private partnership, corporation or other business entity."

In addition to enjoying strong bipartisan support in the statehouse, this piece of long-overdue reform was backed by groups as politically diverse as Americans for Tax Reform, the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and the Mississippi Forestry Association.

But none of that mattered to Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who promptly vetoed the bill, claiming it would cripple his ability to lure large corporations into the state. As Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, admitted in his veto statement, had he not promised Toyota that he would use eminent domain to secure a piece of contested land for its Blue Springs facility, "Toyota would have broken off negotiations with us and chosen one of the other states competing with us for the project."

That sob story may be true, but it still does nothing to justify the state's forcible seizure of private property for the benefit a rich and powerful corporation. Toyota won't be building bridges or roads or waterways or any other legitimate public project that might permit the use (or threat) of eminent domain. It wants to build a plant to manufacture cars and then sell them for a profit. That's not a legitimate public use. If Toyota—or any other corporation—wants a particular piece of land, it should either pony up the market price or find somewhere else to settle. By the same token, if Barbour wants to attract business to his state, he might try pushing for lower corporate taxes or for any number of other pro-business enticements that don't involve stripping citizens of their fundamental rights.

Last Thursday, the situation went from bad to worse, as Barbour introduced an eminent domain bill of his own during a special legislative session. It's a tricky piece of work, one designed to appease lawmakers and voters by borrowing some of the best language from the vetoed bill, yet with certain disastrous additions to the text. Here's how Barbour's eminent domain "reform" bill reads (emphasis added):

The right of eminent domain shall not be exercised for the purpose of taking or damaging privately owned real property for private development, for a private purpose, for enhancement of tax revenue, or for transfer to a person, nongovernmental entity, public-private partnership or other business entity, unless the taking of private property is authorized for a project under the Mississippi Major Economic Impact Act.

The Mississippi Major Economic Impact Act, of course, is one of the biggest reasons why the state needs eminent domain reform. Indeed, that act facilitates the very sort of sweetheart deals between politicians, developers, corporations, and the Mississippi Development Authority that H.B. 803 was specifically designed to prevent. So in the alleged name of protecting property rights, Barbour champions legislation that would undermine those rights even further.

What happens next? Christina Walsh, the director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice, the libertarian legal firm that represented Susette Kelo before the Supreme Court and has since spearheaded many state-level eminent domain reforms (including this one), urges Mississippi lawmakers to reject Barbour's bill and "to stand behind the constitutional principles they voted for earlier this year and behind the constituents that voted them into office."

In March 1792, James Madison took to the pages of the National Gazette to explain why property rights were essential to the preservation of a free society. "Where an excess of power prevails," Madison observed, "property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions." Here's hoping those lawmakers do the right thing and stand up one more time for Mississippi's victimized property owners.

Damon W. Root is an associate editor at Reason magazine.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Tomcat1066||

    Read link doesn't work.

  • ||

    Without having RTFA, let me take a guess:

    Because he's a fucking dirtbag in the pocket of certain monied interests?

  • Elemenope||

    Read link works now...R C Dean, you're a fucking predictive genius.

  • ||

    He looks like Jabba the Hutt.

  • ||

    LMNOP sez Read link works now...R C Dean, you're a fucking predictive genius.

    About like predicting the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. No offense there RC.

  • Warty||

    Now I may just be a simple hyper-chicken...

  • ||

    "...and in a surprise double-whammy decision, the Supreme Court legalizes polygamy."

    "I can't wait to tell my husband!"

  • ||

    Barbour has backpfeifengesicht to spare.

  • Warty||

    He looks like he got attacked by bees, come to think of it.

  • Tomcat1066||

    Emmenient domain has always pissed me off, but this BS attempt at an end around is one of the worst things I've read today.

  • High Every Body||

    This is very disappointing.

  • ||

    SugarFree,

    No doubt. I can feel my fist clinching as I look at his photo.

  • ||

  • lukas||

    Mississippi. 'Nuff said unfortunately. It's a great place run by despicable people.

  • Paul||

    [...]none of that mattered to Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who promptly vetoed the bill, claiming it would cripple his ability to lure large corporations into the state



    Does one really need to read any further?

  • High Every Body||

    Epi,

    Glad you got on topic. There is not enough discussion about killer bees. It is an issue that has been ignored for too long due to pressure from Big Queen.

  • High Every Body||

    I heart the "How'd You Get So Rich" ad. Joan Rivers is yummy.

  • T||

    Joan Rivers is yummy.

    That has to be the scariest thing I've read all day. Just how freaking high are you?

  • Warty||

    Speaking of dicks, is anyone else disappointed by what a dick Walter White's become this season? All that meth dealing is turning him into a huge asshole.

  • ||

    Fat ass fucking crapweasel. Unless and until the Republicans kick sleazebags like Barbar out of the party, we will all be stuck living in Obama land.

  • ||

    But that nearly changed in March 2009 when the Mississippi legislature voted overwhelmingly in support of a proposed law

    Umm, if it was "overwhelming" support, they'd have the votes to override the veto.

    Do you have the actual numbers of pro versus con votes?

  • ||

    OK, googled it, and now it makes more sense:

    "Senators sustained the veto by a vote of 28-22. A two-thirds vote -- 34 of the 52-member Senate -- was required to override Barbour's action.

    Senators had approved the legislation, which Barbour said would severely hamper economic development in the state, on a 51-0 vote three weeks ago. But 22 members apparently changed their minds after lobbying by the governor."

  • ||

    Today in American politics you have

    Libertrians
    Conservatives
    Republicrats (centrists)
    Socialists
    Communists

    It seems to me that Barbour's bill puts him in the socialist class.

  • T||

    But 22 members apparently changed their minds after lobbying getting bitch-slapped with chin wattles by the governor.

    I think that's more likely.

  • Elemenope||

    About like predicting the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

    Recalibrate your deadpan meter, dood.

  • ||

    Joan scrabbled at the roll of toilet paper, unable to get purchase with all her fingernails torn out by the root. "No," Gov. Barbour said, "don't wipe. I take care of that." Tears streamed down her distorted face, the cheek implants wide and high and broad like a Mongolian whore. Her deep-set piggy eyes--obsidian in the gloom of Gov. Barbour's fuck dungeon--darted to the vaginal gleam of the humidity-slicked door and back to him. She realized his eyes were fixed on her shit-spattered thighs. Barbour moved toward her, his tongue unfurling like the reddest of carpets.

  • ||

    Nice Puddinhead Wilson reference in the title of the article, Damon.

  • ||

    But 22 members apparently changed their minds after lobbying getting bitch-slapped with chin wattles by the governor.

    I think that's more likely.


    The 22 members were split 11-11, Rs versus Ds, in a state senate split 27-25, Ds versus Rs.

    It was a bipartisan clusterfuck. And I doubt the 11 Ds got bitch-slapped by a Republican governor. I suspect you'd have to go thru their campaign contribution disclosures to find out the actual lobbyists doing the bitch-slapping.

  • ||

    SugarFree,

    When's the book coming out?

  • ||

    So why did Republican Gov. Haley Barbour recently veto a bipartisan bill that would have secured property rights, and then introduce a bill of his own that undermines them even further?

    Because he's a power hungry douche that likes the ego stroking power that comes with distrubting other people's property.

    Too easy.

    Now ask why the Dems shut down the DC voucher program.

  • ||

    NutraSweet, are you actually Neil Asher?

  • T||

    Now ask why the Dems shut down the DC voucher program.

    Because an educated populace is harder to control?

  • ||

    Pro Libertate,

    I really don't want to go the vanity press route, so I'm still shopping it around.

    Episiarch thinks it has to do with my current round of insomnia. Instead of dreaming my dreams, I'm writing them out for all of you.

  • ||

    Good God, SugarFree. I just Pelosied again.

  • ||

    NutraSweet, are you actually Neil Asher?

    Did you ever find a copy of The Voyage Of The Sable Keech? I can't remember.

  • ||

    I suspect you'd have to go thru their campaign contribution disclosures to find out the actual lobbyists doing the bitch-slapping.

    Nothing to add other than QFMFT.

  • ||

    I just Pelosied again.

    That's not good for your mucous membranes, especially in swine flu season.

  • ||

    Did you ever find a copy of The Voyage Of The Sable Keech? I can't remember.

    Not yet. I checked a used book store by the university that had a huge selection and no dice.

  • ||

    Mississippi exists solely to keep New Mexico from hitting the bottom spot on state rankings like "family income" and such. As long as Mississippi exists the folks in New Mexico can proudly chant "We're #49, We're #49!!!"

  • MNG||

    This case is a little unfair because its long been recognized that you can use eminent domain in cases of blight, and Mississippi is 98% blight.

  • MNG||

    Mississippi's state motto was supposed to be "All the Poverty, Racial Tension, Backwoods Bible-thumping and Oppressive, Muggy Heat of Louisiana without New Orleans."

  • MNG||

    In a famous case in Mississippi a black man was literally hung by the neck until he "confessed" to a crime. On appeal the state supreme court AFFIRMED. The SCOTUS threw it out.

    These were not backwoods hicks in MS, this was the greatest legal minds they could muster at the time.

    "You hung him by the neck 'til he confessed? Shit, nothing wrong there, now court is adjourned for fatback and grits!"

  • MNG||

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_v._Mississippi

  • ||

    In fairness to Barbour, he did sign recently a bill that not only bans traffic cameras, but forces cities that currently use them to take them down:

    http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2009/pdf/history/HB/HB1568.xml

  • ||


    MNG

    "These were not backwoods hicks in MS, this was the greatest legal minds they could muster at the time."



    Being the one does not necessarily exclude also being the other.

    ;)

  • ||

    it amazes me how these scumbag politicians can make the claims they do with a straight face. 'no, we wont use eminent domain to seize your property for the purposes of tax revenue (ie economic development)... unless of course your property is is needed for a corporation who is going to pay taxes... ahem... i mean generate jobs.' Did this douche even read eminent domain provisions in our constitution? It is never, NEVER to be used for the purposes of economic development (ie generating tax revenue). and 'economic development' is not public use of land. and how does he support his views? he trashes actual, legitimate uses of ED in his state such as building roads, which IS public use. this fat slob aint fooling anyone. hopefully the mississippi legislature does the right thing, overrides his veto and rubs it in his fat face.

  • Robert||

    I don't understand how this makes anything worse. The bill prohibits takings of a certain kind except for those authorized by an already existing law. So how is that a disimprovement?

  • ||

    It's Mississippi, another six states need to sign on before they get a clue.

  • Chad||

    Ahh, poor libertarians. Yet another issue where real people just plain conflict with your ideology.

    In LibertarianLand, if Toyota wanted to build a plant, it would simply offer slightly above market rates for all the property it needed, and everyone would happily sell. The the real world, a handful of nutcases with random grudges, or hold-outs looking to use their pseudo-monopoly power to squeeze Toyota, blow up the whole project.

    But yet you all cling to the hope that markets will somehow solve irrationality and monopolies.

  • Randy||

    So Chad likes to see low-income families bullied from their homes and properties. Got it.

  • ||

    In LibertarianLand, if Toyota wanted to build a plant, it would simply offer slightly above market rates for all the property it needed, and everyone would happily sell.



    That's pretty much how Disney assembled their 27,000 acres in Florida. Unfortunately that was about the last time they followed the free market.

  • Herr Konditioner||

    Mississippian here. Toyota has indefinitely delayed construction of that Prius factory because of the economy.

    Huge thanks to Reason for the light they've shined on my beloved state's corruption and graft. I think all the investigative reporters at our newspapers have been laid off. Or shut up...

  • Birlik Otomasyon||

  • sondaj||

    good

  • nike shox||

    is good

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