Thursday, October 19, 2006

CSI Miami on Eminent Domain

When a television show treats its viewers to a session of sermonizing, it usually jumps on a tired theme like gun control, health care, poverty, or abortion. E.R. has jumped on the gun control bandwagon so many times that I've forgotten what the show was about, and they're just one of many examples. Breaking the mold, CSI Miami walked a different path last week. They attacked Eminent Domain.

Roughly defined in the 5th Amendment of the Constitution, Eminent Domain is the power of the government to seize private property for public use. The 5th Amendment then goes on to require "just compensation" for the property owner.

Eminent Domain isn't in and of itself the big bad wolf. More often than not, it is used to build roads and highways, expand universitites, build airports, and perform other such beneficial public works projects. The Libertarian in me wants to say that all Eminent Domain is bad, but a rational person accepts some infringement on their personal property rights as a necessary part of progress.

Unfortunately, our Supreme Court, the "Defenders of our Constitution", have decided to define Eminent Domain much more broadly than its original purpose. To be more specific, they have liberally defined the phrase "public use". In 2005, the Supreme Court in Kelo vs. New London validated the use of Eminent Domain to transfer property from one private owner to another. To qualify as "public use", the Supreme Court expanded the phrase to include economic growth.

To their credit, many states have passed laws limiting the reach of Eminent Domain in light of Kelo vs. New London. However, the effect is no less chilling. Our government has effectively eliminated our right to own property. If the government wants it...or to put it another way...if someone pays the government to want it, they can take it.

Now, back to CSI Miami. In their recent episode Death Eminent, the show addresses the new Supreme Court definition of Eminent Domain. In the show, an upscale, waterfront neighborhood is targeted by a private developer with the city council pushing the economic development angle.

While the show introduces a lot of corruption into the process and a couple of murders (as to be expected of CSI), it still highlights an important and often ignored issue. If XYZ Corporation wants my neighborhood for its newest Big Bang Department Store, it can probably get it through Eminent Domain.

2 Years Ago? Maybe.
20 Years Ago? Unlikely.
200 Years Ago? Not a chance.

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At 10:20 AM, Blogger colin said...

It seems that the writers were pointing out a massive loop-hole in the newer broader definition of E.D., that is the definition of 'blight' which can lead to condemnation of a property as being something that has lowered it's economic value thereby leading to the argument from the developer that E.D. would benefit the public moreso than it would diminish the rights of the individual. It's so rare for a show to get something as complex as this so right that is has to be applauded.


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