by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, George Leef takes issue with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s understanding of eminent domain.
During the debate among Republican presidential candidates last month, Jeb Bush hammered Donald Trump on his abuse of eminent domain. But Trump apparently sees nothing wrong in having government officials force people to sell their property.
Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for a country, for our country. Without it, you wouldn’t have roads, you wouldn’t have hospitals, you wouldn’t have anything. You would have schools, you wouldn’t have bridges.
And what a lot of people don’t know because they were all saying, oh, you’re going to take their property. When somebody — when eminent domain is used on somebody’s property, that person gets a fortune. They at least get fair market value, and if they’re smart, they’ll get two or three times the value of their property.
This last assertion led George Mason law professor Ilya Somin (an expert on eminent domain) to quip at the Volokh Conspiracy, “If eminent domain really were a good way to make a fortune, the Donald Trumps of the world would be lobbying the government to condemn their property. But that rarely, if ever, happens.”
Put aside Trump’s hyperbole about the supposed impossibility of schools, hospitals, and bridges without eminent domain. What I want to focus on is his claim that eminent domain is not objectionable because people who have their property taken make out just fine financially.
That claim is simply indefensible. The truth is that people who lose their property to eminent domain proceedings are almost never made whole.
Legal scholars have for many years been writing about the injustice that usually befalls people who have to settle for what the government deems “just compensation” under the Fifth Amendment. I wouldn’t expect Mr. Trump to know about that because he is too busy making deals. But the kind of deals businessmen usually make involve two parties who can say “no,” unless and until they think the deal will improve their positions.