George Leef’s latest Forbes column responds to Wayne State University professor John Mogk’s argument that government use of eminent domain is defensible when it “works.”

The New London redevelopment project that cost Suzette Kelo her little pink house was, Mogk admits, a fiasco. But he says we shouldn’t paint all eminent domain cases with that brush. He wants to buttress the case that the public welfare can be enhanced by using eminent domain to obtain land needed for projects that are supposed to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Mogk seems to think that the apparent success of [Detroit’s] Poletown saves the day for eminent domain enthusiasts.

Here are three reasons for believing that he is mistaken.

First, as a policy matter, we either give the green light to property seizures for any “public purpose” conceived by politicians, or we prohibit them and limit eminent domain just to seizures for a clear public use. (That’s the language in the Constitution.) We cannot have a rule that says, “Eminent domain may be used for economic development plans, but only where it actually produces net benefits.”

No one can know ahead of time whether a plan will “work” (which is to say, produce at least some of the promised gains) or utterly fail. In Kelo, the City of New London’s grand redevelopment plan fell through completely. Where neat, modest houses once stood, you now see only rubble and weeds. Nobody knew that would be the outcome when the plan was conceived.

To make my point more clear, consider this analogy. The law forbids warrantless searches by the police, but suppose that in some cases where illegal searches are nevertheless conducted, important evidence of criminal activity is found. Should we conclude that the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirements can be discarded because there are some instances where we get good results from warrantless searches?

I don’t think that conclusion follows. And neither should we allow property seizures whenever authorities want to, just because those seizures sometimes have “good results.”

Follow the link above to read Leef’s other two reasons.