Master of His Domain


In March, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed a bill restricting eminent domain by developers. The new law, which removes eminent domain powers from all the Beehive State's redevelopment authorities—and, in a witty aside, allows such powers only when the property seized belongs to board members of redevelopment agencies—leaves intact the power to seize property for "public purposes." Since the whole argument for redevelopment condemnations stands on the idea that new developments are always good for the public, it's likely these agencies will find new ways to work around this law. Still, it's a step in the right direction. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn is now considering a similar bill.

In related news, the other day I caught the grande dame guignol classic Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (worth buying just for Al Martino's rendition of the title song!), which, like virtually every movie that features an eminent domain plot point, treats the practice with contempt. (In this case, it's made pretty clear that Bette Davis' manor house is being seized in some shady Louisiana intrigue; a similar situation crops up in, of all places, Disney's The Rescuers.) So I wonder, who is publicly in favor of eminent domain? The only pro-eminent domain argument I've ever seen in popular entertainment was in the Elia Kazan picture Wild River. The only time I've personally seen people take sides against a small property owner in one of these situations was in the early 80s, when an Atlantic City woman was refusing to give up her house for the greater glory of the short-lived Playboy hotel and casino; in that case, my teachers (many of whom had night jobs as dealers and thus were interested parties) made sure to ridicule her when discussing local civics issues. Other than that, it seems like the public, whose purposes are ostensibly being served by eminent domain, react to the seizure of property with horror and revulsion. So when the same Supreme Court majority that ruled against Angel Raich the other day inevitably rules against the plaintiffs in Kelo v. New London, exactly whose interests will they think they're serving?