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April 13, 2006

Americans united against eminent domain abuse

RICHMOND—While it seems as though almost any subject can ignite impassioned debate in a widely divisive America, there appears to be one issue over which Americans are near-unanimous in their opposition: eminent domain abuse.

Almost a year ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Kelo v. The City of New London, Conn. that governments can seize private property from individuals to boost a community’s economic development; that seized property can be handed over to private developers; that property seized does not need to be blighted for condemnation to occur; and that it is not necessary for final land use to be for public services such as roadways, utilities or government buildings.

In poll after poll conducted since then, the public has voiced overwhelming opposition to the principles of the decision. When Zogby surveyed 1,076 adults on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation earlier this year, 95 percent expressed disapproval of the Kelo ruling. Another 83 percent opposed the use of eminent domain to further private development initiatives.

“This has been one issue that everyone can relate to, regardless of political affiliation, economic status or profession,” said Martha Moore, director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Farm Bureau members voiced their opposition to Kelo very early, and we have been working ever since to protect our farms and homes from government seizure for private development.”

Moore noted that eminent domain was a popular topic this year in the General Assembly, where several proposed eminent domain bills generated intense discussion and negotiation, with no consensus reached on fixing eminent domain definitions of public use.

“More than 13 bills were pared down to two versions of the same bill, but after numerous changes and amendments the final proposal died due to a lack of consensus,” Moore said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because we’d rather continue to work on this through the summer and have a comprehensive bill passed next year than to not get it exactly right.”

Meanwhile, the Web site www.hamptonroads.com asked visitors last month (albeit unscientifically), “Should local governments be able to seize homes for private economic development that will produce jobs and tax revenue?” Nearly 94 percent of respondents said no.

A CBS news affiliate in Denver reported in February that 95 percent of its respondents answered “no” to the question “Should local governments exercise eminent domain for retail development?” The Wall Street Journal, in concert with NBC News, surveyed the public and reported in July, “In the wake of the court’s eminent domain decision, Americans overall cite ‘private-property rights’ as the current legal issue they care most about, topping parental notification for minors, abortion or state right-to-die laws.”

MSNBC asked viewers to respond to the question “Should cities be allowed to seize homes and buildings for private projects as long as they benefit the public good?” The network received 130,758 responses, with 97 percent agreeing with the answer “No, property owners will lose and developers will gain.”

Almost 178,000 viewers voted in a CNN poll wherein the network simply asked viewers whether local governments should be able to seize homes and businesses, and 66 percent of voters said never, while another 33 percent said it was OK for public use.

Several other polls and informal surveys have been issued in the 10 months since the Kelo ruling, and while the questions have varied, the answers have been consistent: Americans—whether Democrat, Republican or Independent—appear to reject en masse the Supreme Court’s decision.

Contact Moore at 804-290-1013.

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