The State of Missouri abuses its own eminent domain law

Timothy Sandefur, the lawyer who fought in court for Homer Tourkakis, had an op-ed in Saturday’s Springfield News-Leader. In it he makes it quite clear: the only way citizens of Missouri can defend their property is by amending the state constitution. Here’s the situation in Missouri as Sandefur sees it:

In Kelo and other cases, courts declared that virtually anything bureaucrats think is a good idea qualifies as a “public use.”

The situation is especially bad in Missouri, which is among the worst abusers of eminent domain in America. In just the one year following the Kelo decision, the state used or threatened to use eminent domain against more than 600 property owners for the benefit of private developers. All across the state, powerful companies are persuading cities to take away the homes and businesses in which people have invested their time, their money and their dreams, and transform them into shopping centers that pay high sales taxes to city governments.

Missouri, in fact, has some of the nation’s most anti-property rights laws. One, called the “TIF Act,” allows large charter cities like St. Louis or Kansas City to use eminent domain against land that bureaucrats consider “blighted,” and to give it away to developers like THF Realty, the company that had its eyes on Homer Tourkakis’ dentist office.

Charter cities are urban areas with special charters from the state legislature giving them powers that smaller communities don’t have. Because Arnold has no charter, Tourkakis argued that the TIF Act did not allow the city to take his land. He pointed out that the law includes no procedure for condemning property — no guidance for Arnold to follow, for example, when deciding how to compensate him for his land. The act was really designed to govern how cities can spend taxes and sell bonds, not to give the eminent domain power to hundreds of communities that did not have it before.

You can read the rest here.

The worst part of state supreme court’s decision is that residents of non-chartered cities are left even more vulnerable to eminent domain than their counterparts in chartered cities. Residents of charter cities at least have the ability to vote on a ballot initiative to prohibit eminent domain abuse. Residents in non-chartered cities are not allowed to do this. So, the state supreme court extended charter cities’ eminent domain power to non-chartered cities without extending to residents of non-chartered cities the rights chartered cities’ residents have to protect themselves from eminent domain.

Last week, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a motion for rehearing in the Tourkakis case, asking the court to reconsider part of its ruling. While the court gave non-chartered cities the ability to use eminent domain, it did not set out the procedure by which non-chartered cities could use eminent domain. PLF is asking for clarification on this point.

One wishes the Missouri State Supreme Court had at least thought a bit more rigorously about the ruling before they handed it down.