More Thoughts On Eminent Domain

As this story notes, the legislature failed to pass a constitutional amendment restricting the use of eminent domain. I’ve explained before that I am conflicted about the issue. On the one hand, no-one wants to see someone’s home given to Stuf-Mart. On the other hand, cities need a way to deal with crack houses.

I think Illinois has come up with a pretty good plan. (h/t ACS Blog). Right now, if the city wants to condemn your property, the only thing you get to dispute in court is the amount they are willing to pay. That is, the just compensation. The Illinois law would also let you challenge whether or not the proposed use is appropriate. Also, the city would have the burden of proof on that issue. Finally, just compensation would include moving expenses and attorney’s fees.

I like this because cities retain the power to improve neighborhoods, but it makes that power more expensive to use. Hence, they have an incentive to refrain from using eminent domain unless it will really produce a large benefit.

I wonder, though, what the standards are for determining if the use is appropriate, and who makes the decision – judge or jury. I would favor a jury, because they better represent the community. Whoever makes it would need some concrete guidelines. Words like ‘appropriate,’ ‘reasonable,’ or ‘justified’ do not really say anything.

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