Tuesday, July 26, 2011 10:45 am | By Grant Morgan
Small business and farm groups took their fight to court on Monday over an attempt to block a constitutional amendment for eminent domain reform from being placed before Mississippi voters.
The amendment, mirroring legislative efforts in other states, would prohibit government taking of land for anything other than a defined “public project.” It would effectively prohibit the turning over of land taken by eminent domain to private investors, as was permitted by the Supreme Court in the Kelo decision.
The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and the National Federation of Independent Business appeared as “friends of the court”, arguing that placing the amendment to the state constitution on the ballot is permissible under the US Constitution because they claim that it does not change the definition of “public use” or grant new rights to property owners, but rather codifies existing definitions in order to protect property-owners from abuse and provide certainty.
Karen Harned, a spokesperson for the NFIB legal center, stated that “"It's one thing for government to take private property for long-standing and well-agreed public uses, but it's just plain wrong for the government to take someone's home, business or farm so someone else can develop the land or secure a better location."
While four candidates for the Mississippi Governor’s office support the initiative, outgoing Governor Haley Barbour opposes it, claiming that it would limit the ability of the state to attract major development projects. The court challenge was initiated by Leland Speed, head of the Mississippi Development Authority, acting as a private citizen.
The Property Rights Alliance supports the ballot initiative, as an attempt to protect property-owners and small businesses, and limit eminent domain powers to their originally intended use. At very least, those opposing the measure should be persuaded to drop their court challenge, and make their arguments before the public.