The Boston Globe has an interesting article about liberal Democratic State Representative Martha "Marty" Walz, who is sponsoring legislation to restrict eminent domain that recently passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives and is now stuck in the state Senate:
State Representative Marty Walz says she only has to gaze out at the towers of luxury housing that occupy the area where a vibrant working-class neighborhood once stood to be convinced of the danger of unchecked government power to seize private property.It was 50 years ago that the city forced thousands of residents out of their homes in the old West End neighborhood to make way for the Charles River Park apartments that were touted as the kind of economic shot in the arm Boston needed to bring fresh vitality - and wealth - to its downtown residential base.
Walz, whose Back Bay-based district includes the West End, worries that such a thing could happen again, and her effort to rein in eminent domain powers has caused a tempest among municipal officials and development types.....
[N]othing in recent years has stirred the passions of those concerned about creeping government authority in this area quite like the Kelo ruling issued three years ago by the US Supreme Court.
In the Kelo case, brought by a New London, Conn., homeowner facing the loss of her house, the court upheld the right of the coastal Connecticut city to take the property as part of plans for a massive mixed-use private development. In a 5-to-4 decision, with the court's more liberal members in the majority, the justices ruled that job creation and an expansion of the city's tax base constituted a "public purpose" in keeping with the Constitution's idea of public use....
The issue defies easy ideological pigeon-holing. Although the losing challenge to the Connecticut land-taking was supported by the court's four most conservative members and was filed by a national libertarian legal rights firm, the NAACP filed a brief on behalf of the aggrieved homeowners.
Like the civil rights group, Walz, a liberal Democrat, finds herself in the company of strange political bedfellows on the issue, but she evinces no qualms about that. "Aren't liberals supposed to protect the politically powerless against the politically powerful?" she says.
Massachusetts is one of only 7 states that has failed to pass any new law limiting eminent domain in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London. As I discuss in this article, many political liberals have joined libertarians and conservatives in opposing "economic development" and "blight" takings because such condemnations often target the poor and politically weak for the benefit of the wealthy and politically powerful (see also here and here). Since World War II, several million people (mostly poor and ethnic minorities) have been forcibly displaced by such takings.
Kelo has focused public attention on this issue and state governments have had to react to appease public opinion. Unfortunately, as I explain in more detail in this article, the majority of the new laws passed by 43 states impose few or no meaningful restraints on takings, and seem to be meant to appease public opinion without actually addressing the underlying problem.
Representative Walz's bill (text available here), seems to effectively ban takings for "economic development." However, at least in the text I have been able to find, It does not address the problem of "blight" takings. In Massachusetts law, as in many other states, "blight" is defined so broadly that almost any property can be declared blighted and condemned.
Still, Representative Walz's bill may be better than the status quo and is a useful example of a cross-ideological coalition in defense of property rights. As I explained in the last part of this paper, such coalitions are essential if we want property rights to be better protected in the long run. As Walz puts it, we all need to do more to " protect the politically powerless against the politically powerful."