With the re-election of President Barack Obama, who will likely appoint more liberal Supreme Court justices opposed to the protection of private property rights, there is little chance Kelo will be overturned by the Supreme Court in the near future. Fortunately, although an unelected group of five judges has chosen to ignore the plain words of the U.S. Constitution and dictate public policy, state legislatures and the ballot initiative process are providing an effective way for the people to fight back and protect their rights.
LANGUAGE OF QUESTION 1 Shall Section 11 of Article I (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended (i) to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use?
On November 6, 2012, voters in Virginia said they’d had enough of government seizing private property for questionable purposes, as 74% voted to approve a ballot initiative limiting eminent domain. Question 1 amended Virginia’s constitution to curtail state and local governments from arbitrarily seizing private property. Private property can now only be taken for a true “public use;” it cannot be taken simply to give it to another private landowner such as a developer for the primary purpose of creating jobs, increasing tax revenue or economic development. The only exceptions are for utilities or to eliminate a public nuisance. Property owners whose land is taken would be given “just compensation,” including for lost profits or lost access.
The constitutional amendment would most likely have prevented cities like Norfolk, Virginia from taking a thriving radio station from its owners and giving the land to Old Dominion University, which had proposed no plans for the property. The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority declared the 78-year old property of Central Radio Company as “blighted,” along with more than 170 other properties in the vicinity of the university. The owners fought back, taking the city to court and hanging a 375-foot banner on their building informing the public of the taking. The city responded by citing the business for a sign code violation, asserting that only 60-foot or smaller signs are permitted. Hypocritically, Old Dominion University has banners larger than the one in question.