Home / Arlen Specter Eminent Domain Hearing Blasts Columbia Law Professor Thomas Merrill

Arlen Specter Eminent Domain Hearing Blasts Columbia Law Professor Thomas Merrill

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Yesterday Arlen Specter chaired a U.S. Senate Judiciary hearing on behalf of new bipartisan legislation likely to be introduced by no less than twenty Senators intent on effectively overturning the malignant decision of the Supreme Court in Kelo v New London. The hearing began with testimony from Susette Kelo herself. By the conclusion of the hearing it became clear, ironically as a consequence of the stunningly fallacious reasoning of Law Professor Thomas Merrill, that fundamentally the Kelo decision primarily helps the wealthy and politically connected bully the poor and politically unconnected. Merrill, attempting to argue on behalf of the Kelo decision, actually presumed the false dilemma that either the wealthy will take the property and pay just compensation with Kelo or if this new legislation is passed they will still take that property by means of rezoning and taxation. Either way, according to Merrill, the wealthy will take the private property of the poor. So a federal law limiting eminent domain will have no real effect.

But Specter and the other Senators saw through Merrill’s absurdity and instead recognized the issue as it was framed by Hilary Shelton of the NAACP, who aptly remarked “Urban renewal actually turns into Black removal,” and by extension the eclipse of individual rights by municipal desires. In essence, when eminent domain allows municipal governments to give private property to other private interests, especially those who support them politically, this creates a gross conflict of interests. The only safe private property becomes the private property of the large political donors and political insiders. Therefore, U.S. Senators have come to realize that is essential to pass federal legislation limiting eminent domain to its “traditional uses.”

As Susette Kelo, painfully discovered, poor individuals are unable to afford the legal help necessary to win fair compensation from the mighty power of their local governments. With eminent domain uncontrolled by federal legislation, individuals can now lose their property whenever a municipality deems it just, and these individuals will only receive compensation for their property what the municipality taking it deems is just. As all lawyers know, just compensation is no guarantee of fair compensation. This alone is sufficient evidence of the need for new federal legislation limiting eminent domain abuse by local governments whose duties are more easily blurred by their local conflicts of interests.

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  • alethinos59

    Good summation! Thanks!


  • True on all counts, except the one you left out: states still have the right to limit such takings, and many state legislatures have already moved to prevent Kelo-type decisions by local governments within their states.

    IO Error cites Alabama, California, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas as moving to restrict immeninent domain. On the other hand, he notes, some states are reportedly ramping up imminent domain seizures in the wake of the Kelo decision.

    The problem is, the Supreme Court decision threw this back to the states — so individual states would need to decide.

  • carmine

    Neither was it left out nor is it the point of this new legislation. The problem is that local governments have a conflict of interests, including state governments. Look at PA for example, our Governor is held happily captive by his local legislators particularly those in the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia who very much want their powers of eminent domain broadened. Precisely as fair access to abortion rights depends on federal protection so too does fair protection from eminent domain abuse depend on federal legislation.