The Old Dominion Strikes New London
On February 13, a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at eminent domain abuse sailed through both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. This legislative action qualifies the amendment for a plebiscite vote in November. The amendment would stipulate that compensation resulting from eminent domain seizures include lost profits and access in addition to the value of the underlying real estate. This change has the support of Virginia property rights advocates including Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
If enacted, this constitutional amendment would strike at the heart of the 2005 Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London. This ruling allowed government entities to expropriate private property at the behest of another private interest for the sole purpose of increasing their jurisdiction’s tax base. Politicians often further their electoral interests by saturating voting blocs with public money. Therefore, politicians are always on the lookout for ways to enhance government revenue. The judicial activism displayed by the five justices who ruled against Susette Kelo greatly advanced the cause of rent-seeking politicians at the expense of property owners.
The only silver lining in the Court’s misinterpretation of the Fifth Amendment is that the justices left the states with the ability to enhance property rights protections. The Commonwealth of Virginia’s attempt to correct the damage inflicted on property owners by Kelo is laudable. The International Property Rights Index demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between developed property rights and economic development. As the economy continues to struggle with slow growth and high unemployment, Virginia voters would do themselves a favor by supporting property rights this November.