Eminent Domain Reform Passes with 73 Percent of Vote
In a tremendous victory for property rights, 73 percent of Mississippians yesterday overwhelmingly rejected the infamous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London to become the 44th state to pass stronger protections for property owners against eminent domain abuse.
Initiative 31 amends the Mississippi Constitution to prohibit the government from seizing private property by eminent domain and handing it to other private entities. Government agencies that take private property by eminent domain for a public use must own and use that property for 10 years before selling or transferring it to a new, private owner. Restricting the transfer of the property the government acquires by eminent domain discourages the forced transfer of property from one private owner to another private owner under the guise of “economic development” and will protect the vast majority of property owners in Mississippi.
“Mississippians and their property are safer today—their homes, farms or businesses cannot be taken by eminent domain simply to be to be handed over to others for private profit,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner.
Mississippi had been one of only seven states that have not yet enacted any type of eminent domain reform since the Kelo decision which took away the homes of seven New London, Conn., families for private development and sparked a nationwide backlash against eminent domain for private gain. IJ represented Susette Kelo before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In 2009, Governor Haley Barbour vetoed a strong eminent domain reform bill that passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the state legislature,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice. “Like all typical eminent domain abuse apologists, Barbour claimed that economic growth would screech to a halt if big corporations couldn’t use eminent domain to seize perfectly fine private property. As we demonstrate in Doomsday, No Way: Economic Development and Post-Kelo Eminent Domain Reform, that’s false—and yesterday’s vote demonstrates that Mississippians recognize that, even if Barbour refuses to.
This was the third attempt to reform Mississippi’s eminent domain laws. A lawsuit was filed earlier this year to keep Mississippians from voting on Initiative 31 but IJ and the Mississippi Farm Bureau worked to keep it on the ballot.
IJ filed an amicus brief in the Mississippi Supreme Court on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – Jackson Chapter and the Mississippi Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. In a September 2011 ruling the Supreme Court allowed the initiative to remain on the ballot but said it could be challenged if enacted.
“Voters in Mississippi spoke loud and clear: The government does not have the power to take their property and give it to a private developer,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. “Mississippi can finally be added to the list of states that have reformed their laws to provide better protections for property owners against government abuse.”