I wrote a short piece for the Monkey Cage — a political science blog hosted by the Washington Post — based on my recent article on eminent domain (which I also blurbed here at DPP). The very short version is: if Donald Trump is elected president and seeks to make good on his promise to build a wall across America’s southern border, he would have to use the government’s power of eminent domain to take thousands of properties from individuals and small businesses–mostly in Texas. My research indicates that eminent domain is unpopular in the best of circumstances, but is really unpopular when the takings are for non-traditional “broad” uses that the public would not actually use. As a result, I argue that the wall would become really unpopular very quickly if Trump (or anyone else, for that matter) tries to actually build such a wall.
See the full piece here.
Editor’s Note: And, if you’re curious about hearing Trump’s perspective on eminent domain, in his own words, here’s an interesting YouTube video for you to view.
As regular readers of DPP know, a significant portion of my research concerns property rights–especially takings. A piece of this research that I have been working on over the last year or so was published last week in the Journal of Law and Courts, in an article titled “Beyond Kelo: An Experimental Study of Public Opposition to Eminent Domain.” In this study, I show that Americans really do not like eminent domain: large majorities of people consistently oppose eminent domain across a wide range of political contexts. Additionally, I argue that public opinion toward takings is sensitive to the purpose for which that property is to be taken. In particular, I show that people are strongly opposed to takings for the purpose of economic development–such as those at issue in the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. New London. Put differently, government takings of individual’s property is almost always unpopular, but it is really unpopular to take property (even a vacant lot) for the purpose of economic redevelopment.
My article is the latest in a growing body of research that suggests that eminent domain, as it is currently practiced in the U.S. , rests on very shaky footing in terms of both its democratic legitimacy (see my article, as well as these by Ilya Somin), and in terms of its policy and economic outcomes. [I reviewed Somin’s excellent book on Kelo and eminent domain reform here.] Taken together, my reading of this research is that significant reforms in the law of eminent domain are needed. Stronger protections for the rights of property owners would protect disadvantaged and minority groups in the face of takings by affluent and connected interests; such protections are also more consistent with leading theories of constitutional interpretations–including both originalism and living constitutionalism; and as I argue, given the very low levels of public support for takings, they would improve the fit between policy-in-action and the public will.