Sunday, April 14, 2013

Josh Hovannisian- Blog Post 2

Public Use and Eminent Domain

Owning property is a big part of the freedoms that come with living in America. These freedoms are guaranteed, yet there are exceptions that a land owner may have to face. The government has the right to take control of real estate through the concept of eminent domain.  When the government takes land through eminent domain, it must be for a public use and for just compensation. Also, the land owner has the right to sue the government through the due process system. The problem with eminent domain comes through the ambiguity of the term “public use.”

            The process of eminent domain has been used in the past in order to build roads, schools, and other services that are provided by the government. The lingering question is just how far this power goes. Who has the right to decide what use is public and what use is private? There is a large grey area between something that is public use and something that is beneficial. Eminent domain has been claimed on land simply for measures that benefit the community as a whole, without necessarily being a property that gets used by the public (Vitullo-Martin). A positive externality can very much benefit the surrounding neighborhoods. These externalities could raise property values and help the community in many different ways; however these benefits may not be tangible enough to claim them as public use.

            Many in California have recently been affected by the government’s power of eminent domain. The California High Speed Rail project has lead to the government using this process to take land in order to build the track for the bullet train project. Much of the land that is being taken is agricultural land, which is the heart of the San Joaquin Valley economy. Also, much of this agriculture land has been owned and farmed by the same family for multiple generations (Souza). Although just compensation is guaranteed, many of the land owners do not feel that the compensation is worth it. Many have grown attached to their land and wouldn’t sell it for any price. This is to say that what a court determines just compensation is very different than what the land owner considers his land to be worth.

            The government may be the only entity that has the power of eminent domain; however the issue does not stop at with the government. Many corporations have teamed with the government in order to seize land that they need in order to complete their projects. One such project that has been the cause of much controversy is the Keystone Pipeline. This pipeline is being built in order to transport petroleum from Canada and the northern U.S. down to the Gulf Coast. In order to complete this project, specific land is needed to ensure the pipeline can fulfill its purpose. Normally, if a person does not want to provide their land for use of the pipeline, they would not have to. With the governmental backing of this project, however, eminent domain can be used. This, however, is the start of a very slippery slope of when the government is taking its powers too far. A Canadian company named TransCanada, for example, is gaining land claiming eminent domain because the U.S. government is backing the process. Many citizens, however, are challenging whether or not eminent domain can be called in this case. The situation will be reviewed and it will be up to the courts to decide whether or not land could be taken in this manner (Kaufman and Frosch).

            Eminent domain is an essential right the government must have in order to maintain a strong community. It can be used in many ways beneficial to those who are affected by it. There is no doubt, however, that there is a grey area that surrounds the government’s right to take land. Every time the government uses eminent domain, the situation is different.  Just compensation changes on a property-by-property basis and the use the land being seized will have also fluctuates. It must be determined how far the government can actually take this right, without infringing on the rights of the land owner. The right of eminent domain is a very sensitive issue and it is essential to examine each case individually.



Kaufman, L. & Frosch, D. “Eminent Domain Has Taken a Canadian Twist.” The New York Times. Published on October 17, 2011. Accessed on April 14, 2013 at

Souza, C. “Farmers Learn About Eminent Domain Process.” Ag Alert. Published on February 27, 2013. Accessed on April 13, 2013 at

Vitullo-Martin, J. “Thinking About Eminent Domain.” The Manhattan Institute. Published on Feburary 2005. Accessed on April 14, 2013 at

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