Eminent Domain dispute in the Missouri Supreme Court

Yesterday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported from the hearing at the Supreme Court. The issue being considered here is whether the Missouri state consitution allows a small city like Arnold to take private property for commercial development. Here are both sides of the argument:

Sandefur argued that the Missouri Constitution gives the power of eminent domain only to chartered cities.

Arnold is a third-class city under Missouri law and does not have its own charter. Therefore, he said, it had no legal authority to try to take Tourkakis’ office.

But Gerard T. Carmody, an attorney for Arnold, said he could find nothing in the Constitution that prohibited a third-class city from using eminent domain after declaring an area as blighted for redevelopment.

Such a declaration was made by the Arnold City Council before property was purchased for the 54-acre shopping center.

“The constitution tells us that . . . the clearing of blight is a public purpose,” Carmody argued.

Even so, Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith noted from the bench that Jefferson County Circuit Judge M. Edward Williams had found that Arnold had no consitutional authority to use eminent domain for a commercial project.

Carmody argued that it was never the intent of the framers of the Constitution or the Legislature to prevent smaller, non-chartered cities from declaring areas blighted and then taking measures to alleviate the blight. That includes the power of eminent domain, he said.

Meanwhile, local station, KOMU-TV focused on the importance of this case for property owners across the state:

The Missouri Supreme Court heard the final arguments for city of Arnold v. Homer R. Tourkakis Thursday. Tourkakis’s case is one of many business owners in jeopardy of losing his business. This is a crucial case for families and business owners who may also lose their homes to eminent domain.

Virginia Marth has lived in the same house since birth. But, Marth may not spend the last years of her life there.

“I can’t imagine the idea of it not being in our family. That someone wouldn’t be living there,” said Marth.

Her city government is trying to take her family’s home under eminent domain.

“The value to me is beyond the real estate value,” said Penelope Marth, daughter.

In Springfield, Mo., the News-Leader published a piece by Dave Roland of the Show-Me Institute. It’s “Voice of the Day” designation is well-deserved:

One hundred years ago, there would have been absolutely no doubt that the court would side with Tourkakis. Missouri’s Bill of Rights has four separate provisions that emphasize citizens’ fundamental right to keep what they own unless their property is necessary for a true public use, like roads, parks, or public buildings. The early cases interpreting those provisions made clear that the right of individuals to “enjoy the gains of their own industry” was vital, and could not be subverted unless the government proved the necessity of violating that right.

During the last 50 years, however, judges have steadily given municipalities, unelected government authorities, and even some private companies more and more power to take homes, businesses, and houses of worship from their owners so that other private interests could profit from them.

It’s worth reading in its entirety.