In a year in which the four I’s — ISIS, immigration, Iran, and income inequality — have dominated the debates, the seldom-discussed topic of eminent domain has made its way into the presidential campaign.
The Constitution guarantees that private property can only be taken for a “public use.” The Supreme Court, however, interprets “public use” as meaning “public purpose,” which has often allowed governments to implement economic redevelopment projects by condemning one person’s property and turning it over to another.
The propriety of this sort of “private use” condemnation has been debated for years. When Vera Coking, Donald Trump’s elderly neighbor, refused to sell him her home, Trump persuaded a New Jersey agency to condemn it to give to him. A court ultimately stopped the agency from seizing the home.
Ted Cruz then ran a commercial showing, three children, yelling, “Eminent domain, eminent domain,” while using Donald Trump action figures to demolish a facsimile of Mrs. Coking’s home.
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Cruz hasn’t been the only candidate to profit from opposing “private use” condemnations. Marco Rubio cites, as one of his chief accomplishments, legislation he introduced which has prevented Trump-type “abuses” in Florida.
When the Supreme Court decided the famous Kelo case (allowing New London, Connecticut, to condemn Suzette Kelo’s home to give it to Pfizer, the giant pharmaceutical company) Bernie Sanders warned that the decision would result in “working families and poor people see[ing] their property turned over to corporate interests and wealthy developers.”
Not so fast. While the court allowed New London to seize Mrs. Kelo’s home, it reaffirmed the proposition that individual states could prevent “private use” condemnations by passing anti-Kelo legislation, which gave Rubio the chance to make his mark.
Andrew Schuster, Miami