Reprint courtesy of:
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Condemnation Bill Veto Is Shocking
By Paul J. Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation
In a move that can only be described as shocking for both political
and moral reasons, Gov. Bill Richardson became the first governor in the country
to veto legislation aimed at protecting individual property owners from the
abusive use of eminent domain.
According to the Institute for Justice, the nations leading authority
on the use of eminent domain, abuse primarily occurs when the government takes
one person's property and gives it to another private party.
In June 2005, the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. New London made
eminent domain abuse constitutional by interpreting the Fifth Amendment to mean
that any eminent domain taking, even for the express benefit of another private
entity was legal as long as the condemning authority had a plan and
officials believed that some public benefit would result from the taking.
Although the courts decision was a tremendous blow to property owners
everywhere, the court explicitly allowed for the possibility that states could
place restrictions on the use of eminent domain. That is exactly what had been
happening nationwide as more than 40 states have bills under consideration and
six states had already passed bills to address the courts decision. In
fact, until Richardson's veto, no governor had opposed efforts to limit
It is surprising that the governor sees no problem in allowing state and
local governments unfettered power to take peoples homes and small
business. Even more surprising is that a man faces re-election this year and
who, by all accounts, wants to run for president in 2008 would choose to take
such an unpopular stand.
All available polling data shows that Americans of all walks of life are
strongly opposed to the Supreme Courts broad interpretation of eminent
domain and would thus disapprove of Richardsons veto.
While it is rare to find any issue on which more than 80 percent of
Americans agree, poll-after-poll clearly shows that large majorities of
Americans of all income levels, ethnic backgrounds and from all geographical
regions oppose the use of eminent domain to further private development
initiatives. In one recent survey by the American Farm Bureau, when
respondents were asked about the Kelo ruling, an overwhelming 95
percent expressed disapproval; of those respondents, 87 percent said they
disagreed strongly with the ruling. As a means of comparison, only
64 percent of Americans opposed the Dubai port sale.
Not only is opposition to Kelo remarkably broad, but Americans are
demanding that something to be done to protect homeowners.
Conservatives and libertarians tend to believe constitutional limits on
government power should be obeyed, but Richardsons own base is even
more directly impacted and mobilized. After all, Richardson calls himself a
business friendly progressive, thus implying that much of his
support comes from middle and working class New Mexicans.
The impact on the poor was explained by former Justice Sandra Day
OConnor in her Kelo dissent. OConnor explained that
the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries
are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in
the political process, including large corporations and development firms.
Despite his professed concern for poor and working class New Mexicans,
Richardson has taken the side of the rich and influential developers on this
issue. It will be interesting to see what the fallout from this move is for
property owners — and for the governors political career.
Paul Gessing is the president of New Mexicos Rio Grande Foundation.
The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research
and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico
based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual