The issue of eminent domain is a controversial one in the United States, a country where a great emphasis is placed on sovereign ownership of property. Eminent domain occurs when a state takes action to take private property from a citizen while paying them for it; however, the citizen does not have a say in whether or not the property is taken. The state then uses the property for its own ends, or leases it out to third parties (corporations, etc.) to develop for business or public reasons. This creates a dilemma between owners of private property who believe they have a sovereign right to their property, and the government who needs to use that property to provide economic and public development for the people as a whole. Kelo v. City of London and Nowrood, Ohio v. Horney are two cases where eminent domain is the primary concern; in this paper, the results and details of these cases will be compared and contrasted.
KELO V. CITY OF NEW LONDON
In Kelo v. City of London, Susette Kelo sued the city because her house was condemned for the purposes of redevelopment. This redevelopment was meant to inject jobs and tax revenue into the state; this was the incentive behind exercising eminent domain on the property. Despite Kelo’s lawsuit, the Supreme Court filed in favor of the City of New London; according to them, the benefits that the city could receive because of the redevelopment made it worth the seizing of public property for public use.
NORWOOD, OHIO V. HORNEY
In Norwood, Ohio v. Horney, which happened not long after Kelo, Horney and other homeowners sued the city in order to prevent the city of Norwood from seizing their homes for the sake of commercial development. Nearly seventy homes and businesses were targeted for seizure, for the sake of more private development like condos and bigger businesses and retail establishments. However, this would mean the seizure of the homes of Joe Horney and others. He and others filed three separate cases, which were then combined into what became Norwood, Ohio v. Horney. Unlike Kelo, the Ohio Supreme Court found in favor of the homeowners, with a unanimous vote.
These two cases place two different outcomes on the subject of eminent domain. According to the Ohio Supreme Court, “Growing fears regarding the potential abuse of the eminent domain power cannot be dismissed as idle speculation on the part of commentators. As municipalities increasingly struggle to provide public services with limited financial resources, governmental authorities are encouraging more intensive economic development to generate additional tax revenue to create new jobs and to jump start local economies. Accordingly, there is a gathering storm of public debate as to whether the use of eminent domain to acquire property for private economic development in nonblighted areas is justified” (Norwood, Ohio v. Horney).
The primary issue is whether or not eminent domain is appropriate and justified for the seizure of public property. There is a likelihood of people becoming reticent to own property, because of the possibility that the seizure will happen anyway. While there is the possibility of financial compensation for those whose homes are seized, the issue of sentimental value of the public property (as well as where the residents would live next) is a large one.
The decision of Kelo v. City of New London was a controversial one, as the 5-4 decision was hardly unanimous. According to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, “private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation;” as such, governments use the issue of compensation to justify the taking of property. However, it still places significant burden on homeowners and small business owners to defend the seizing of their property. It is a particular issue for small businesses, who often rely on location and the loyalty of their existing clientele to survive – it is less likely that they would survive an involuntary move. Family homes with generations of history are also victim to eminent domain from time to time; it is the crux behind the Kelo and Horney cases, as they did not want to lose their homes, despite the financial compensation that was promised them.
What’s more, the source of eminent domain powers is a confusing an anachronistic one – “even if holdout is a serious problem for government, it does not explain why eminent-domain powers actually developed” (Benson, p. 423). Back in the days of colonial America, there were attempts to limit government powers to take property; however, this has taken a backseat in the face of modern economic market failure, which has become the justification for government takings of property. This resulted in the impetus behind the majority decision of Kelo, which was the forfeiture of sovereign rights to property in favor of the possibility of economic growth. The Kelo decision states that “the need for eminent domain is especially great with regard to older, small cities like New London, where centuries of development have created an extreme overdivision of land and thus a real market impediment to land assembly” (“Kelo v. New London,” 2011).
The primary difference between the Kelo and Horney rulings is that, while Kelo, in a near-split decision, ruled in favor of government seizure of private property, Horney saw the unanimous choice to let the homeowners keep their homes. This is very surprising, especially given the fact that Horney had the Kelo decision as a precedent. However, the controversy the decision received may have made it a bit less desirable for future cases. As a result, the backlash that case received as a result of the decision gave the Ohio Supreme Court justices a greater incentive to rule in favor of the homeowners.
The ultimate issue involved with eminent domain is whether or not the government has the right to take private property from its citizens. With Kelo, it was thought that the City of New London could have benefited from the economic development possibilities stemming from these forfeitures; however, in the wake of that controversy, the Horney decision showed that private citizens still have the right to their property and whether or not it is sold out from under them. The increase in government power and scope implied in Kelo resulted in significant backlash, which was reflected in the Horney case’s opposite decision.Horney Hon
Benson, Bruce. “The Evolution of Eminent Domain: A Remedy for Market Failure or an Effort to Limit Government Power and Government Failure?.” Independent Review 12.3 (2008): 423-432. Print.
“KELO V. NEW LONDON.” Legal Information Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2011.
Norwood v. Horney, 110 Ohio St.3d 353, 2006-Ohio-3799.
Ravenell, William , and Bobby Davis. “Government Acquisition of Private Property for Public Use: An Analysis of United States Supreme Court Decisions.” Negro Educational Review 57.3 (2006): 203-213. Print.