The Michigan Legislature has become the first in the nation to adopt a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit the government from taking private property from its owner and giving it to a private interest for economic-development purposes or to increase tax revenues.
Both houses of the Michigan Legislature overwhelmingly adopted the resolution Tuesday.
The signature of Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, is not required. The resolution now goes to the Office of the Michigan Secretary of State for placement on the Michigan ballot in November.
"This is a solid constitutional amendment. Michigan has a bad track record of eminent-domain abuse, and the proposed amendment goes a long way toward stopping these practices," said Scott Bullock, a senior lawyer at the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm.
"We are confident that the citizens of Michigan will overwhelmingly approve this amendment," said Steven Anderson, coordinator of the Castle Coalition, the institute's grass-roots advocacy project. The coalition's name comes from the adage "Your home is your castle."
Lawmakers in four other states -- Alabama, Delaware, Texas and Ohio -- have passed legislation designed to limit abuse of eminent domain since the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling June 23 in the case of Kelo v. City of New London. The high court's 5-4 decision upheld a Connecticut city's ability to force homeowners to sell properties that are slated to be torn down to build a commercial waterfront project.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows the government to take private property for public use. This traditionally has meant land to build highways, roads and schools. The owners are paid what the government considers fair market value for the condemned properties.
In the Kelo case, the Supreme Court was asked whether economic-development projects that transform private property into other private uses -- shopping centers, residential developments, or industrial or office parks -- constitute a "public purpose." Justice John Paul Stevens and four other justices decided they do.
Homeowners and legal groups representing them charge that the high court's ruling represented the death of private property rights.
But in the majority opinion, Justice Stevens noted that state legislatures are free to enact laws that bar condemnation of property for private development. In addition to Michigan and the other four states that have acted, 38 states are considering eminent-domain reform when their legislatures reconvene next year.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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