A. Barton Hinkle on When Eminent Domain Is Just Theft

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Eminent domain

When the government seizes private property, it has to meet two conditions spelled out in the Fifth Amendment: The property must be taken for public use, and the government must reimburse the owner with just compensation. Starting around the middle of the last century, "public use" became "public purpose." Then came the 2005 Kelo case, in which the town of New London, Conn., took private property to give it to other private interests it hoped would use the land better, and the Supreme Court said that was OK. Reaction to Kelo was ferocious, and sparked reform. But, points out A. Barton Hinkle, government bodies often will take private property for genuinely public uses, such as a road—and then try to stiff the owners, especially if they don't take the first offer that's put in front of them.