Justin Amash

Rep. Justin Amash Takes on Eminent Domain with 'Just Compensation' Bill

The bill would likely stop Trump from using the "military version of eminent domain."


Jeff Malet Photography/Newscom

Legislation proposed today by Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) would essentially require the federal government to offer landowners "just compensation" before seizing their property to make room for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Eminent Domain Just Compensation Act, the text of which Amash posted to Twitter, doesn't specifically mention President Donald Trump's proposed border wall. But considering the timing—Trump and congressional Democrats are currently at an impasse regarding $5.7 billion in wall funding—the immediate potential impact is pretty clear.

As Amash's office noted in a press release, the Fifth Amendment does allow the government to take "private property for public use," as long as "just compensation" is provided. "But in some cases," the statement explains, "the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other government agencies are using 'quick take' condemnations to take possession of private property before just compensation has been determined."

"It is unjust for the government to seize someone's property with a lowball offer and then put the burden on them to fight for what they are still owed," Amash said in a statement. "My bill will stop this practice by requiring that a property's fair value be finalized before DHS takes ownership."

The libertarian-leaning Republican does not necessarily oppose building a wall on the southern border. "I don't have an inherent objection to a border wall," he told the Ionia Sentinel-Standard last week. But he emphasized that "it should take into consideration private property at the border and environmental concerns."

There are indeed significant private property concerns when it comes to building the wall. That's because the federal government owns less than a third of the land on the southern border. The rest belongs to other entities, including states, Native American tribes, and private individuals. Most of the border land in Texas is private property, and as they've explained to Reason TV, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press, some of those landowners don't plan to go down without a fight.

Efrén C. Olivares, racial and economic justice program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Post one major issue is that landowners who decide to fight the government in court are often forced to give up access to their land in the meantime before a final payout is determined. Amash's legislation would likely remedy this "by requiring that court proceedings settling compensation be completed prior to the government's taking possession of the property," according to the press release.

The bill would thus stop the Trump administration from using what the president referred to on Friday as the "military version of eminent domain."

"[Lawsuits are] not going to hold [the wall] up because under the military version of eminent domain and under, actually, homeland security we can do it before we even start," Trump said. If Amash's bill became law, the government wouldn't be able to seize land until those lawsuits are settled.

NEXT: Bill de Blasio: 'We Will Seize Their Buildings, and We Will Put Them in the Hands of a Community Nonprofit'

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  1. “military version of eminent domain.”

    Most libertarian president ever.

    1. So when HRC said The Party Of Lincoln was becoming The Party Of Trump, was she right or wrong?

      1. Would Lincoln use military options along our southern border?

        1. I have a feeling that Lincoln would have used the James K Polk approach…

        2. He did.

        3. No more than he would suspend habeus corpus on approve ‘total war’ to destroy civilian food supplies and property.

          1. Fake news! (did I do it right?)

      2. She’ partially wrong.

        I’m sure some other scholar can point out a better timeline, but broadly speaking at some point the Party of Lincoln became the Party of Reagan (possibly with intermittent steps). That Party of Reagan eventually became (again, possibly with intermittent steps) the Party of Trump.

        So there’s a line between them, but there were important steps in-between that should preclude people thinking it was the “Party of Lincoln” until three years ago.

      3. One thing the GOP is not is the party of slavery. That is the Democratic Party.

    2. Certainly since Coolidge, which tells you what a bunch of authoritarian shitbags we’ve had in office since then.

    3. Tony|1.10.19 @ 5:29PM|#
      “Most libertarian president ever.”

      Still is, which shows how low that bar is.

      1. Help me understand here what exactly is it that makes the pussy-grabber a “libertarian”, even with the definition of the word stretched to Proxima Centauri?

        1. 1) DeVos
          2) Gorsuch
          3) Ajit Pai, end net price fixing
          4) Major reduction in the growth of regulations
          5) Dow +30%
          6) Unemployment at 3.8%
          7) The US Manufacturing Index soared to a 33 year high
          8) Got repeal of the national medical insurance mandate.
          9) Withdrawal from Paris climate agreement.
          10) In the waning days of 2017, the Trump administration pulled its support for the $13 billion Hudson Tunnel project.
          11) More than 16,000 jobs have been cut from the federal leviathan
          No go find treatment for your TDS; it’s no longer amusing.

          1. 12) Telling Progressive PC bullies to get stuffed.

            1. Lol what a bunch of fucking morons you are.

              1. Excellent rebuttal –

          2. 5-7 are good, but not libertarian.

        2. BTW:
          “…makes the pussy-grabber…”
          BTW, help me understand why anyone who uses that slimy identification should be considered a sentient human being.
          Fuck off.

          1. Of course, then there are the sainted Kennedys.

    4. What is your view on the bill itself? Do you support it?

      I’m genuinely curious on what the Democrat take on this is.

  2. So much for the Constitution. The 5th Amendment eminent domain was a restriction of federal appeals courts re cases that would appear before them. The constitutional authority for a wall is Art1 Sec8 – to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings

    Which means such land can only be taken by the legislature of that state – then sold to the US. The state decides the just compensation to any private landowner before such sale to the US. And then Congress has to step up and do something beyond scratch its balls.

    1. Article 1 Section 8 give Congress legislative authority over certain territories. It does not limit eminent domain to those cases.

      1. The hell it doesn’t. Every state has a delineated boundary – by the terms of its original charter or of its statehood. There is not a single one of those that allows the federal govt to bypass the sovereignty of the state over their territory in order to deal directly with private landowners and in so doing change the boundaries of that state. The only possible exception is Indian treaties – but in those the individual state has never had legal authority over Indian territories.

        Further, the 5th Amendment can not remotely be construed as a grant of additional authority to the federal govt beyond the terms of the Constitution itself. All 10 amendments are a LIMITATION on govt – not additional powers of govt.

        1. Eminent domain isn’t about changing the boundaries of the states.

        2. I believe that limitation was abolished by the National Parks Amendment, or something.

          1. No it wasn’t.

            CA ceded land back to the Feds.

            All the rest was either federal territory that was never handed over to those states (which is its own problem – but still it was never NOT federal territory) or is actually Indian treaty.

        3. History of the Federal Use of Eminent Domain
          The federal government has used eminent domain many times without changing the boundaries of the states. Article 1 Section 8 defines when such takings also grant the federal government exclusive legislative authority.

          1. And on edit – Yep it sure does look like the US has violated the Constitution before as well as what Amash is proposing. Color me completely shocked – and stunned.

            1. Well, that is your opinion. Let’s see you enforce it.

          2. Oh and if you look at the actual federal legislation at issue in the 1st Supreme Court decision (Kohl v US – 1875) it reads:

            Secretary of the Treasury be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to purchase a central and suitable site in the City of Cincinnati, Ohio, for the erection of a building for the accommodation of the United States courts, custom house, United States depository, post office, internal revenue and pension offices, at a cost not exceeding three hundred thousand dollars, provided that no money which may hereafter be appropriated for this purpose shall be used or expended in the purchase of said site until a valid title thereto shall be vested in the United States and until the State of Ohio shall cede its jurisdiction over the same, and shall duly release and relinquish to the United States the right to tax or in any way assess said site and the property of the United States that may be thereon during the time that the United States shall be or remain the owner thereof.

            So even though it was federal legislation which directed direct federal negotiation of the land purchase, it pretty clearly stated that said legislation was not valid until after the state ceded their legal authority.

            1. You left off the start of that paragraph “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, …” The court was quoting the act of Congress (17 Stat. 39) which imposed those restrictions. The court was holding the government to the law it enacted.

    2. The state decides the just compensation

      If only one party decides what’s just, is it really just?

    3. Was that done with National Parks and all the other Federal Land owned in western States?
      I do not think so.

  3. Question: Will the Democrats fight this harder than the GOP, because we already know the Democrats’ opinion on ED.

    1. This might be the chance to use TDS for good for once, instead of evil.


    2. The Dems would be more likely to support it just because its what Trump doesn’t want. But that said, to pass it, would require veto override because there’s no way Trump would sign it into law.

  4. supercool if “just compensation” was concrete

    1. He’s got ties to the NYC construction industry, and there are fish swimming in the border between Texas and Mexico.

    2. I think most would prefer compensation in the form of cash, but out of curiosity, how much concrete are we talking about?

  5. Eminent domain is a swindle because the only “just” compensation is that agreed upon voluntarily. I’ve seen enough appraisals to know how wildly they can differ for similar houses, and there have been enough news reports to show that governments always lowball compensation with the dirtiest tricks imaginable — waiting until the blight condemnation to judge value, for instance.

    1. I think there is legitimate need for eminent domain takings, for like roads and stuff. But the “just” compensation should three times the “fair market value”. If someone losing their stuff, then making a windfall is not unreasonable.

      1. There is no libertarian justification for eminent domain.

        1. I didn’t know your version of libertarian ignores the 5th amendment.

          1. Libertarian philosophy is not based on the U.S. Constitution.

          2. Mine has nothing to do with such documents. Slavery was constitutional until it was not. Denying marriage to gay people was constitutional until it was not.

            If the law is unjust I could care less what the judges and lawyers think. I still oppose it.

        2. Yes there is. Libertarianism is fine with limited and tiny government.

          1. …because, we all know, you are the voice libertarianism. At least, that’s what you keep telling us.

          2. There’s nothing limited or tiny about government than can seize any individual’s private property for any reason, with compensation based on their own standards.

        3. So, how would we ever build roads without eminent domain laws?

          1. How would we ever harvest cotton without slaves?

          2. We wouldn’t build as many, and would probably be better off for it. The government has this thing about building roads not because there is a genuine need for them, but because somebody’s brother-in-law is a contractor or union boss.

      2. I disagree and agree with OP. There is no legitimate justification for taking property without the consent and mutually agreed upon terms of the owner. There are bazillions of roads currently in existence. If the government wants to build something new, they should do what every other citizen must do and buy the property first without coercion. Otherwise its tyranny. ED is the most tyrannical law currently still in the constitution.

        1. Didn’t Kelo settle this issue?

          1. No. Kelo expanded it.

            1. Kelo changed nothing. It only publicized the already terrible Supreme Court interpretation of eminent domain.

  6. What if we start a program that earmarks funds to buy land along the border from people who want to sell it and turn it into parkland? The parks can have water fountains and rest rooms and shaded spots to relax so that illegal immigrants have a safe place to sit still and get caught by authorities. Then they will start the asylum process.

    That way, people who are along the border and annoyed at the situation can sell their land to the feds for just compensation and people who don’t mind the situation can keep their land. Within a couple of years, we could have an honest signal from Americans living along the border about how bad or good life is there. That information can help us shape our border policy.

    1. Great idea, thanks

  7. Who needs Eminent Domain?


  8. Interesting, but since’s a pretty obvious indirect attack on the wall, I can’t see Trump signing it. And given McConnel’s reluctance to embarass the president, I can’t imagine him letting it go up for a vote in teh first place.

    All of which means that I don’t have any reason to give it any further consideration.

    1. You can go back to beating your orphans.

      1. Oh, these euphemisms.

  9. “[O]ne major issue is that landowners who decide to fight the government in court are often forced to give up access to their land in the meantime before a final payout is determined.”

    Trump only wants to defend ignorant white people the United States from brown people immigrants coming over the border from shithole other countries. He will protect your land by seizing it from you. What’s wrong with that?

    1. I can see why Mexico didn’t want you. You’re the kind of Mexican Trump warned us about.

  10. Presumably. Border Patrol agents may transit private property that fronts the border whether or not the private landowner approves or not, whether or not there is a fence, wall or dotted line in the sand. And any persons seeking to enter the U.S. at such locations may be detained by Border Patrol. So talk of land seizures by eminent domain to build a wall or improve a fence is pretty much theoretical. Are there actually some private landowners whose deck or swimming pool straddles the border and will be severely inconvenienced by a wall but aren’t by regular patrols? Or are we talking about sprawling ranches? Maybe Trump should offer them a deal: “No Wall for you; we will leave an open path for illegal immigrants to come right through your property. Have fun with that. Oh, and we will re-route the U.S. border and you might find yourself as part of Mexico.”

  11. Agree with this bill. Before taking someone’s land for public use, the land owner should be justly compensated, regardless of why the land is taken

  12. Well good for Amash. ‘Quick Take’ eminent domain seems particularly evil. I had no idea that this was actually a thing.

    1. Yes. There are a lot of abuses the federal government can inflict by simply forcing legal nonsense on someone, and waiting until they go broke fighting it.

      This is not unique to the federal government though. I wonder what changes to legal proceedings overall could aid in this issue.

    2. Does this bill run afoul of Kelo v. New London?

      1. No. Kelo was about how far the Constitution allows eminent domain law to go (and changed nothing – see the 1981 Poletown case in Michigan, for instance), but Congress and the states are not obligated to go that far.

  13. Just compensation.

    “Hey that car is a beauty”

    “Yup. ’65 Shelby Mustang GT 350. Restored it myself. Took me 12 years but I enjoyed every minute of it. Not many of these left.”

    ” What do you want for it?”

    ” oh I’m not interested in selling. It is priceless to me”

    “Great, I am from the government and I need it. National security. See we need to bribe the Sultan of Brunai so we can build a base there and this is the only thing he will take. Here is $1000 bucks, going rate for a used mustang. Bye.”

    1. I oppose ED even for that oil pipeline, but your analogy is not likely to convince people that you have any understanding of the issue.
      Try something which doesn’t require grasping at straws too thin to hold.

      1. You can be more creative than that.

        Lighten up.

      2. No more grasping at straws; they have been banned. Get woke already.

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  15. The saddest part about all of this is that it shouldn’t take a new law to guarantee just compensation, as already prescribed by the 5th Amendment.

  16. The only just compensation is that which the owner has agreed to.

    1. That cannot be true.
      That would make the decision in Kelo v. New London unjust.
      SCOTUS would never do something unjust. /sarc

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  18. This “just compensation” bill can easily turn into another enricher of corrupt local politicians, as the oldest trick in that playbook is buying up properties in advance that lie within the right of way of future public projects that are deemed to be critically needed.

  19. I can’t imagine any other Bill that will be hated by as many politcal factions in congress. Any liberal would not want to recognize the significance of private property (and market economics), especially when the government “needs” it. Any law and order type, and their allies in the military adventure camp, certainly would not allow for impediments in their manuevers. Pets of crony capitalists have no problem with eminent domain, as long as their particular master benefits. And statists of all flavors certainly do not support any limits on state power.

    I give Amash the same odds as everyone in the House approving his farts.

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