Utah Legislation Would Gut Eminent Domain Reform

Could Be First State to Reduce Protection for Property Owners Since Kelo

CONTACT: John Kramer; Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320
March 2, 2007

Arlington, Va.—This week, the Utah legislature passed a bill that would gut the state’s eminent domain reform in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London.  House Bill 365, which passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House, would allow local governments to take private property for another private party’s gain.  Worse yet, it would allow property owners to vote their neighbor out of their home or business, thereby imposing a tyranny of the majority.

“Governor Huntsman should veto this bill,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, which helps homeowners nationwide fight eminent domain abuse.  The Castle Coalition is a grassroots organization coordinated by the Institute for Justice, which litigated the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago.  “The fact that this piece of legislation is being applauded by the City of Ogden—which itself hoped to take Dorothy Littrell’s property for a Wal-Mart—illustrates how little protection it provides.”

Currently, Utah has one of the most comprehensive laws against the abuse of eminent domain in the nation.  Under Utah’s 2005 Senate Bill 184, local governments are not allowed to acquire property in so-called “blighted” areas for private redevelopment.  In most states, the definition of “blight” is so vague that nearly any well-maintained property could be declared “blighted” thereby clearing the way for the government to take it.

“Utah’s 2005 legislation stands as a model for states across the nation and any changes to current law would only weaken protection for homeowners and small businesses,” Anderson continued.  “The new legislation reopens the Pandora’s Box of ‘blight.’  It is nothing more than a backdoor method to allow the government to take homes and small businesses from one person and give them to someone with more money or political power.”

House Bill 365 allows property owners who own a large majority of property (in size or value) to vote to force out neighbors who want to keep their homes or small businesses.  That means property owners who merely want to be left alone to enjoy what is rightfully theirs are exposed to abuse.

“In America, the majority can’t vote away the rights of the minority; that is completely antithetical to the American system of government,” Anderson said.  “The Founders rightly called this tyranny, which Governor Huntsman has the power stop by exercising his veto.”