If you could use some good news—and these days, who couldn’t?—pay attention to Virginia’s debate on eminent domain. The progress toward a constitutional amendment limiting that power has something to gladden the heart of every political type. Lawmakers approved the measure for the first time last year. They will have to pass it again a second time before it can go to the voters in a referendum. If the voters approve it, then the language will be added to the state Constitution.
Essentially, the constitutional amendment would elevate the statutory protections to constitutional ones. The measure restores the rights that the Supreme Court eviscerated by ensuring that private property can be taken only for truly public uses—not to promote economic development, or to increase the tax base, or to enrich powerful special interests. This is an easy sell to conservatives, who tend to favor property rights. But liberals have good reasons for supporting the amendment as well, writes A. Barton Hinkle. The first is the asymmetrical nature of government takings. Local governments are never going to seize property from rich developers and give it to poor homeowners. The process will always flow in the other direction, which makes eminent domain for economic development purposes repulsive from a social-justice perspective.