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.