Restrictions on the power of governments to take private property for public use

Eminent domain (United States, Philippines), land acquisition (India, Malaysia, Singapore), compulsory purchase (United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland), resumption (Hong Kong, Uganda), resumption/compulsory acquisition (Australia) or expropriation (France, Italy, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Chile, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Panama) is the power of a state, provincial or national government to take private property for public use only if the government provides fair compensation to the property owner. However, this power can be legislatively delegated by the state to municipalities, government subdivisions or even to private persons or corporations, when they are authorized by the legislature to exercise the functions of public character.


Amendment V to the U.S. Constitution
"No person shall ... be deprived of ... property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Web Pages

FindLaw: U.S. Constitution: Fifth Amendment: Annotations: National Eminent Domain Power


A Man's Home Is His Castle, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Jul 2006
A review of the movie The Castle (1997) and its main theme: eminent domain
"The Castle ... is also a movie about eminent domain: the so-called right of a government to seize private property for a public use, such as a freeway, in exchange for what the government deems to be fair-market value. Thus the movie's title spins off the maxim, 'A man's home is his castle.' ... The U.S. Supreme Court had just rendered a decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which is now infamously and simply known as Kelo. The Supreme Court ruled that the city could use eminent domain to transfer private property from its owners to a private entity that wishes to use it in a 'better' economic manner."
Related Topics: Australia, The Castle
An End to Eminent Domain Abuse?, by George Leef, Future of Freedom, Apr 2005
Published just two months before the unfortunate Kelo v. City of New London U.S. Supreme Court decision, expressed hope that the court would rectify the 1954 Berman v. Parker ruling
"Among the many ways in which American citizens have become less secure at the hands of government is the possibility that they will be victimized by eminent domain ... The U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment states that government shall not take private property except for "public use" and must then pay "just compensation" for it. Sad to say, governments now routinely take land for projects that can be termed "public use" only by distorting the meaning of words, and, to make matters worse, the owners seldom receive anything close to "just compensation." For many landowners, eminent domain is merely a fancy term for a legal mugging."
Confessions of a Welfare Queen: How rich bastards like me rip off taxpayers for millions of dollars, by John Stossel, Reason, Mar 2004
Discusses the National Flood Insurance Program, subsidies to farmers and farm corporations (such as Archer Daniels Midland) and Donald Trump's attempt to use eminent domain to expand a casino in Atlantic City
"The legal doctrine of "eminent domain" (which means 'superior ownership') allows government officials to take possession of your property if they decide they need it for the greater good. Traditionally this meant building highways, bridges, and parks, and eminent domain was used only in unusual situations. But today government officials use eminent domain to help private companies ... Donald Trump ... wanted to expand one of his casinos in Atlantic City. Vera Coking was in the way. ... New Jersey's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority filed a lawsuit in 1994 to 'acquire' Coking's property."
Crony-in-Chief: Donald Trump epitomizes Ayn Rand's "Aristocracy of Pull", by Steve Simpson, 2 Feb 2017
Examines the issues of "cronyism" or "pull-peddling", suggesting --as Ayn Rand did-- that the solution is "to limit government strictly to protecting rights and nothing more"
"In the early 1990s, Atlantic City resident Vera Coking found herself in the sights of a developer who wanted to turn the property on which she lived into a casino parking lot. The developer made what he thought was a good offer, but she refused. The developer became incensed, and instead of further trying to convince Coking to sell or finding other land, he did what a certain kind of businessman has increasingly been able to do in modern times. He pursued a political 'solution.' He convinced a city redevelopment agency to use the power of eminent domain to force Coking to sell. The developer was Donald Trump."
Does the Market Commodify Everything?, by Thomas Woods, Mises Daily, 18 Sep 2006
Contrasts the behavior of participants in a free market vs. the state's attitude towards those it considers its subjects
"In the case of eminent domain, where the state confiscates your property for its own purposes, you will be paid something, but the state itself will decide exactly what it will pay you. How is this preferable to a world in which each individual is allowed to declare the terms on which he will dispose of his person and property, and in which no exchange takes place unless both parties voluntarily agree to it?"
Related Topics: Free Market, Prices, The State
Eminent-Domain Chutzpah, by Sheldon Richman, 30 Oct 2006
Comments on an eminent domain case in Riviera Beach, Florida where a developer is threatening to sue the city council for reneging on a supposed deal
"The victims of eminent domain are usually working-class people who are forced to sacrifice their homes for the sake of luxury homes and shops. Sure, they get paid something, but it's not a true market price and some of these folks don't want to move at any price. Fortunately, the [Kelo vs. New London] Court ruling unleashed a public backlash against eminent domain, and in response, over 20 states, including Florida, passed restrictions on their cities' power to take people's homes for private development."
"Liberal" Court Okays Eminent Domain Abuse, by George Leef, 1 Jul 2005
Discusses the U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London
"The Constitution allows government to take private property only where it is for a "public use" and only when just compensation is paid. Going back to 1954, the Court has allowed property seizures where the reason is not for the construction of some item of public infrastructure, such as a road or bridge, but for a private investment where it is alleged that there will be a public benefit. The plaintiff in Kelo sought to have the Court draw a sharp line between the former category and the latter. Sad to say, the Court declined to do so; with its blessing, eminent domain abuse will continue."
Related Topics: Government, Taxation
More Victims of Immigration Control, by Sheldon Richman, 18 Jan 2008
Discusses how employers and property owners along the U.S.-Mexico border are also victims of U.S. immigration controls
"Apparently, at least some of 102 landowners fear the government will steal their land — using the euphemism 'eminent domain' — to build a fence to keep independent immigrants out of the country. Who can blame them for not letting the federal agents on their land? Eminent domain is the doctrine that government is the ultimate landlord of the country and people hold their property at the pleasure of the state. If it wants the land, it can take it. To be sure, the Constitution says it has to pay for the land. But there can be no 'just compensation' in a forced sale. What makes compensation just is consent ..."
Related Topic: Private Property
Political Plundering of Property Owners, by James Bovard, Nov 2002
Details effects of local government land and property seizures allegedly for urban renewal purposes, for improving "blighted" neighborhoods or for the benefit of sports team owners
"Between 1949 and 1971, however, urban renewal razed five times as many low-income housing units as it created and evicted more than one million people from their homes. In one of the first major challenges to the federal urban-renewal program, a federal district court struck down a Washington, D.C., land-seizure program in 1953 ... But in November 1954, the Supreme Court overturned the federal district court and effectively gave government officials unlimited power to confiscate and redistribute land."
Test your freedom IQ, The Orange County Register, 18 Jun 2006
20 multiple-choice questions covering the role of government, free enterprise, taxes, property rights, free speech, religion, civil liberties, transportation, war and foreign policy, the Nanny State, gun ownership, education and immigration
"A large retail company ... has offered a city significant tax benefits if the city uses eminent domain to take an older strip mall of small businesses and give the big-box retailer the choice location. City Council members: ... Should tell the big retail company to find another city to hornswoggle. Property rights are the foundation of American life - whether you're a single homeowner or Donald Bren - even if, in Kelo, a slim high court majority was too foolish to see it."
The Bill of Rights: Eminent Domain, by Jacob Hornberger, Future of Freedom, Dec 2004
"The original purpose of eminent domain was to enable government officials to acquire property to establish places from which to run the government ... for example, courthouses. ... the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Bill of Rights and thus applies the restrictions of the Fifth Amendment to the states."
The Eminent-Domain Origin of Shenandoah National Park, by Bart Frazier, Future of Freedom, Sep 2006
"The establishment of Shenandoah National Park in 1926 is one of the greatest abuses of eminent domain in our country's history. ... It is cases such as this that display the vile nature of government takings, and it would be a proud day for our country should men one day become wise enough to decide that the use of eminent domain should be discarded completely."
Related Topic: Virginia
The Federal Ripoff, by George Leef, Future of Freedom, Nov 2006
Review of The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money (2006) by Timothy P. Carney
"Another means by which business gains from governmental power is the seizure of land by eminent domain. Carney recounts several stories of small business owners who found themselves facing eviction from their property because it was coveted by some large developer ... Cheap land is alluring to business, and the prospect of higher tax revenues is alluring to politicians. The fact that eminent domain means the use of force against people — who usually are not fully compensated for their loss — does not trouble either big business moguls or their political henchmen."
The Invisible Hand Is a Gentle Hand, by Sharon Harris, 14 Sep 1998
Defends the free market and individual liberty, quoting among others Frédéric Bastiat, Thomas Jefferson, David and Milton Friedman, John Lott, Isabel Paterson, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Adam Smith, Thomas Sowell, John Stossel and Walter Williams
"You want to see dog-eat-dog? Look at the notorious Kelo Supreme Court decision on eminent domain. The government now has the power to seize your home or business and turn it over to other private individuals. ... And government can take property through eminent domain. Recently near my home the county government forced a black church to sell its land to make room for a tunnel. The so-called 'fair' price paid wasn't enough to rebuild the church. A whole church community will be displaced for a bureaucrats' idea of progress. In a free society, ... this [would] not happen to a church ..."
The Supreme Court Repeals the Constitution, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Sep 2005
Discusses the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, with emphasis on the dissenting opinions of O'Connor and Thomas
"Before proceeding I must say that eminent domain is an assault on individual freedom. ... As a matter of law, this principle is a vestige of absolute monarchy and is contrary to the libertarian spirit of the American founding. ... As a matter of logic, no 'just compensation' is possible in a forced sale of property, because the only just price is the one freely negotiated by seller and buyer. What makes a transaction morally legitimate is not compensation but consent. Eminent-domain cases are distinguished precisely by their lack of the seller's consent."


Takings Exception: An Interview with Richard Epstein, by Richard Epstein, Steve Chapman, Reason, Apr 1995
Topics include libertarian ideas, Epstein's book Takings, the public housing and inner city issues, and civil rights laws
"What was really needed was a coherent hearing which started from the ground up and took the very simple position that any time you impose a restriction on land use, the state has to either justify the restriction or pay for the value that is being deprived. ... But that was never done. ... people ... think that for every dollar that the public body wins, the individual loses a dollar. What typically happens is the public wins $1.00 and private owners lose $5.00 or $10. If you do that hundreds upon hundreds of times each year, you have a major drain on the social welfare of the community."

Cartoons and Comic Strips

Eminent Domination, by Mark Fiore, 3 Aug 2005
Herbie Fully Loaded: A Supreme Court Production, by Gary Varvel, 27 Jun 2005
Rest Assured, Your Property Will be Used ..., by Drew Sheneman, 22 Feb 2005
Sold to the Politically Wired Developer, by Chip Bok, 24 Jun 2005
We Have Repeatedly Ruled That Citizens Should be Protected From Government ..., by Stuart Carlson, 24 Jun 2005
Well, If You Have a Better Idea of Where ..., by Drew Sheneman, 24 Jun 2005


Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain
    by Richard Epstein, 1985
Partial contents: Philosophical Preliminaries - Hobbesian Man, Lockean World - Takings Prima Facie - Justifications for Takings - Public Use and Just Compensation - Explicit Compensation - Implicit In-Kind Compensation - Tort - Regulation - Taxation

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Eminent domain" as of 2 Nov 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.