South Carolina Legislature Sends Eminent Domain Reform to Voters

PRESS RELEASE: June 15, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—Last night, the South Carolina Legislature passed a proposed amendment to the State Constitution that provides home and business owners across the state with meaningful protection against eminent domain abuse.  The amendment, which will appear on the November 2006 ballot, specifically prohibits municipalities from condemning private property for “the purpose or benefit of economic development, unless the condemnation is for public use.”  It further requires that an individual property be a danger to public health and safety for it to be designated as “blighted,” closing a loophole that enabled local governments to use eminent domain for private use under the State’s previously broad blight definition.  The amendment also removes provisions of the State Constitution that specifically allow several counties to use eminent domain for private uses.

“We applaud South Carolina legislators for sending this constitutional amendment to the voters,” said Bert Gall, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represented Susette Kelo and her neighbors before the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London.  “South Carolina law currently allows takings for private use under the guise of ‘blight’ removal, so what happened in the Kelo case could have happened in South Carolina.  If approved, this constitutional amendment will fix that problem, and South Carolinians will have some of the strongest protection in the country from eminent domain abuse.”

Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney for the Castle Coalition, the Institute’s grassroots advocacy project, agreed and added, “If this amendment is approved, blight will no longer mean whatever a developer or bureaucrat says it is.  The amendment ensures that so-called blight laws are not used as a backdoor way of using eminent domain to take homes, businesses, farms and places of worship for private profit.”

If passed by voters in November, the amendment would require all eminent domain laws currently on the South Carolina books to conform to the new limitations. 

“A constitutional amendment is unambiguously the most effective way to stop the abuse of eminent domain for private gain,” said Steven Anderson, coordinator of the Castle Coalition.  “This amendment will protect South Carolinians’ fundamental right to keep what they rightfully own.”

Since Kelo, legislators in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation aiming to reform eminent domain laws.  South Carolina joins Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan and New Hampshire in efforts to reform condemnation laws in the form of a constitutional amendment.

Gall concluded, “If approved, this amendment will do what the U.S. Supreme Court failed to do:  protect private property from eminent domain abuse.”