Property Rights

Eminent Domain Reform at the Mississippi Ballot Box


The Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin runs down the issues at stake today in Mississippi as voters consider the fate of Measure 31, a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution "to prohibit state and local government from taking private property by eminent domain and then conveying it to other persons or private businesses for a period of 10 years after acquisition." As Somin explains, Mississippi has long been a particularly notorious abuser of its eminent domain powers:

Economic development condemnations are often used by powerful interest groups to acquire land for themselves at the expense of the poor and politically weak. In Mississippi, recent condemnations have transferred land to big auto firms such as Nissan and Toyota. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and others claim that these takings are needed to promote economic growth. In reality, economic development condemnations often destroy far more economic value than they create, by wiping out homes, small businesses and schools.

Somin is right that Barbour has been no friend to property rights. In 2009 the governor vetoed a similar eminent domain reform bill that enjoyed bipartisan support in the Mississippi statehouse, explaining that the proposed law would cramp his ability to lure large corporations to the state. As I observed at the time, Barbour's sob story may have been true, but it still did nothing to justify the state's forcible seizure of private property for the benefit of a rich and powerful corporation. Barbour and allies simply want free rein to make crony capitalist deals. It'll be interesting to see if the voters want something else.


NEXT: Public Health and the Tyranny of the Common Good

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  1. E.D. problems could be entirely solved if the Supremes would just rule that “just compensation” is whatever the owner of the property thinks is a fair price.

    1. Ha! That’s exactly why they use eminent domain in the first place: the owner doesn’t want to sell.

      1. Precisely. The proper modern solution is to have government purchase land on the market just like everybody else.

        A prohibition of government purchases for anything other than direct government use would be nice if any level of government could be trusted to do that.

        1. Even then, they try to pay less than FMV.

          1. robc, eminent domain is not about getting land cheap, it’s about getting land the owner doesn’t want to sell. In the absence of a willing seller* there is no such thing as fair market value.

            The unwilling seller wants to get paid too much and the unwilling seller wants to pay to little.

            That said, in eminent domain cases that go to court compensation is generally considerably higher than what a similar parcel would get in a fair market transaction. Appraissors tend to mark high for the original offer and juries tend to raise the price if the case is litigated**. Juries in condemnation cases are typically sympathetic to the owners being condemned. of course if you’re particularly attached emotionally to a piece of property, there is no price at which you will sell, which is why ED is required in the first place.

            It’s also why if ED is used at all it must be for strictly for public projects.

            *or buyer, for that matter, but ED deals with unwilling sellers.

            **I very much doubt that any jury has ever lowered the state’s first offer in a condemnation case.

            1. IOW, Susette Kelo wasn’t complaining that the city didn’t offer her enough money.

              1. Everyone, even Susette Kelo, has a price.

                The city didnt offer enough money.

            2. I’ve seen ED cases where the government argued, and the court agreed, that $0 was proper compensation.

              1. I’ll have see some citation before I’ll believe that.

                Of course, my observations are limited to the USA, or more particularly to the state of Florida, not Communist China, so cases from there are not acceptable.

                1. How about Arkansas? Last time I checked, we were still in the union.

                  The decision was based on the fact that the seizure of a portion the land through ED for a highway expansion project would actually make the remaining section of the property worth more money.

                  Note: that may actually be the case, but there’s no way to prove that….and it still does not negate the fact that the seized land had some monetary value.

                  But there’s government logic for you.

                  1. Hmmm, was this case actually litigated or did the property owner donate the land because he saw that the benefits to him were sufficient?

                    1. To add

                      People actually donate land for public projects they see as benefitting them.

                      Also, dedicating land for road and drainage purposes has long been a condition for getting approval to subdivide land.

            3. Seizing land and selling it at a profit to a developer for private homes has been frequent since TVA and before. Public works projects in the vicinity of ED seizures are NOT public projects and have been a source of ED abuse for over a century in the US.

          2. True and some will be glad to sell lower than FMV, even donate property freely. However, the days of government getting a free ride in the real property market should be long over. There no longer is a perfect spot for a police station or military base that the government “must have”. They can find a willing seller down the lane or up the river.

            1. Unfortunately in locating highways or drainage facilities, they can’t always find a suitable site down the lane or up the river.

              In the case of property developers getting the city to use ED to assemble a site in an established built up area there is a case to be made that it is being done “on the cheap”.

              Assembling land from a lage number of individual owners in an expensive and time comconsuming process. If a developer has the right connections he gets to have the city use its condemnation powers to move things through. This is something that shouldn’t be allowed to happen no matter who wants to get what built.

              1. Having said what I said at 11:56, I would still prefer to see free market methods employed for acquiring land for public projects.

                1. Really Isaac? You sound to me like the bleeding nuts that don’t think you own your own damn property (which due to real estate taxes is sadly true…you rent from the gov’t until they take it from you)

                  Nevertheless ED in my opinion in any sense is a fascist policy.

              2. Private roads are the solution.

        2. if any level of government could be trusted to do that.

          “Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

          1. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a genius. I also love this quote:

            ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean ? neither more nor less.’

            ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

            ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master ? that’s all.’

    2. That makes no sense at all.

      Oh, wait. You’re not talking about erectile dysfunction?


  2. This MS voter says no to more cronyism. Fuck off, Barbour!

    1. Do most other people near where you live who you have talked to agree with you on this?

      1. I know that my dad feels the same. Most other people seem to be occupied with initiative 26 which a surprising number of my conservative friends are pushing a “no” vote.

  3. Why is it whenever I hear the name “Haley Barbour” a picture of Boss Hogg immediately pops into my head?

    1. Because it is one of those names that is not exactly “foreign” sounding but nonetheless is somewhat exotic precisely because it is archaic. Such names are more common in Southeastern states where family names are more often passed along to new generations.

      1. Or, ya know, it could just be because Barbour operates his little crony empire the same way Boss Hogg did.

        1. That too. I watched that show as a kid but have not seen it in years. I didn’t see the movie.

          1. I gave up on anything Willie Nelson is associated with after seeing Coming Out of the Ice, then seeing his performance slide rapidly downhill. The exception was his work in “Wag the Dog”.

    2. I prefer to think of the other Haley.

    3. He looks like Boss Hogg. True story. there actually was a governor of Texas named Hogg. His socialite daugther was named Imagene. Ima Hogg was quite a big deal back in the day. There is no truth to the rumor that she had a sister named Eura.

    4. When the Anarchists talk about their respect for people and disrespect for property the Dukes of Hazard pops into my head too.

    5. Because he looks and talks like Boss Hogg?

  4. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and others claim that these takings are needed to promote economic growth.

    And then the new businesses are further subsidized by existing businesses by sweetheart tax deals. That’s some awesome economic growth.

    1. The able must help those who need more money. Whether they want to or not. And the government needs a lot of money. As does its friends.

  5. Today is the five year anniversary of the H&R commentariats greatest triumph and its greatest shame. To honor the values that once made this blog great and to overthrow the oppression of the 1% of threadshitters, I call upon my fellow commenters to #OccupySaltyHamTears. Yes it will crash your browser, but isn’t a 3,000 post count worth a little sacrifice from each of us?

    1. I thought the greatest event was the disappearance of joe.

    2. I thought the greatest event was the disappearance of joe.

  6. If Measure 31 does pass, how long will it take for Haley Barbour’s Attorney General to get to the Mississippi Supreme Court?

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