Speech at University of Mississippi School of Law on Eminent Domain Referendum Initiative Measure 31

On Monday, October 10, I will be speaking at the University of Mississippi School of Law on a Mississippi eminent domain reform referendum initiative, Measure 31 (which is on the ballot this November). The talk is sponsored by the University of Mississippi Federalist Society, and will begun at 12:30 PM in Room 2094.

Mississippi is one of only a handful of states that have not enacted any eminent domain reforms at all since the Supreme Court’s controversial 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which ruled that the Constitution allows government to forcibly transfer private property to other private entities for purposes of “economic development.” Forty-three other states have enacted new laws, though many of them are likely to be ineffective.

Mississippi has a considerable history of dubious takings. Republican Governor Haley Barbour is a prominent advocate of massive condemnations that transfer property to big business interests such as auto manufacturers. In 2009, he vetoed a legislative eminent domain reform billIn this article, I explained why the kinds of economic development takings Barbour supports generally create more economic harm than benefit.

Although Measure 31 is not perfect, it would be a major improvement over current Mississippi law, which allows a wide range of economic development takings for big development projects, and also defines “blight” so broadly that virtually any area can be declared blighted and condemned. The initiative precludes economic development takings almost entirely by forbidding the transfer of condemned property to private interests for at least 10 years after the taking. It does create an exemption to this rule for property that is unfit for human habitation or poses a “direct threat” to public health or safety. But that is much more restrictive than the state’s current blight law. Broad definitions of blight that license abusive takings are a serious problem in many other states, including New York.

I will have more to say about Measure 31 at my presentation, and probably in a follow-up post that I will write after the talk for readers interested in the issue who are unable to attend.