Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Sending Sandefur Business

Sandefur’s full time job is as a litigator for the Pacific Legal Foundation, specializing in eminent domain and economic rights cases. One of the cases he is involved with now is one that I brought to his attention with a post here last year. It’s in Minnesota, where the state, bravely defending consumers against low prices, fined a company $140,000 for selling gas too cheaply at its 4 stations in the Minneapolis area. He writes at Positive Liberty about the brief he just filed with the court of appeals on behalf of Midwest Oil.

There is another potential case that I brought to his attention last week involving one of my best friends and eminent domain. My buddy Jeff was a member of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity at MSU when we were in college. The city of East Lansing has now targeted the stretch of road that their fraternity house is on for seizure so they can pursue a big development project with lots of new retail outlets. The city council has already taken the first steps to declaring the entire area blighted, which is laughable to anyone who knows the area.

The segment of town they have in mind, the south side of Grand River Avenue from Bogue St to Hagadorn Rd is certainly not blighted. It includes many thriving businesses, student apartement buildings and fraternity houses. The Delta Sigma Phi house, in particular, is something of a local landmark, a unique stone building that is nearly 80 years old. There is nothing the least bit blighted about it.

Unfortunately, under current Michigan law, part of the definition of blight is “economic underutilization”, which means that if the city thinks they can make more tax revenue by taking it from you and giving it to someone else, they can do it. That could all change next week if Michigan voters pass Proposition 4, which would amend the state constitution to make it much tougher for cities to engage in this sort of property seizure. The Michigan Supreme Court already narrowed the means of such seizures a couple years ago in a case that Sandefur also filed briefs in, but this would make those changes part of the state constitution so they could not be overturned.

For a thorough analysis of Proposition 4, go here. I strongly urge my Michigan readers to vote yes on Prop 4. And I urge my readers in other states to push for similar legislation. We must put a stop to this unjust erosion of property rights.


  1. #1 Raging Bee
    October 31, 2006

    I was about to ask what sort of burden of proof was required to declare an area “blighted,” but your reference to “economic underutilization” pretty much answered my question.

    The really disgraceful thing about all this is that state power should not be necessary for this sort of “revitalization.” The enterpreneur who thinks he can use a bit of land more profitably than its current owners should simply be able to offer the best price to buy it.

  2. #2 Dan R.
    October 31, 2006

    There is a fine line IMHO — and I’m not entirely sure where to draw it.

    In my area, an auto manufactorer wanted to open a new factory — 1000’s of high paying jobs, multi-billion dollar development, etc. One lady owned an old tract home in the middle of where the factory needed to go — and refused to sell at a massively inflated price of 500K (vs 65k appraised value).

    Eventually a state law was passed which allowed for a taking — which in this case I think is acceptable, but I’m not sure where or how to draw the line on these kinds of cases.

  3. #3 Robert
    October 31, 2006

    Man, I thought we lived in a free country, where if you owned your home and payed your taxes you could live in peace. But apparently its a crime to value your home and not want to help other people make more money.

    I call bullshit on the auto factory. Its a factory, it can be built wherever the auto manufacturer wants. It isn’t a commercial entity, its industrial, it doesn’t need prime location. That lady had her house stolen from her.

  4. #4 AndyS
    October 31, 2006

    Christ, I’m not even a libertarian and I think the woman with the house is being robbed. It’s especially distrubing to see the rejection of an “inflated” price (500 vs 65k) being used to paint her as irrational. The worth of your home is not what someone else is willing to pay, it’s what you, the owner, are willing to accept.

    Like so many others, it was only with the infamous Boston area case that I learned what eminent domain really means in most US states. The definition I was taught in high school was right up there with Washington and the cherry tree.

  5. #5 Big Nasty
    November 1, 2006

    We have a proposition on the ballot in California this election (prop 90) that is supposed to restict takings of property via eminent domain. I recently received a mailer from the ACLU of Northern California that says this about it (transcribed from paper mailer – any typos my own):

    NO on Proposition 90. Prop 90 would not only affect the government’s eminent domain power, it would also restrict the government’s authority to regulate the use of private property for the public good. The initiative would impede the government’s adoption and enforcement of regulations such as anti-discrimination and environmental-protection measures.

    I don’t get it. Even without considering the contents of the proposition, how can that be the ACLU’s objection? How is that on the side of civil liberty?

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    November 1, 2006

    Big Nasty:

    That is very disappointing to me, but it’s a perfect example of why the ACLU so badly needs reform right now. I strongly support them on a number of issues, but that is an appalling position for a civil liberties group to take.

  7. #7 Big Nasty
    November 1, 2006

    That’s what I thought, too. In fact, it seemed so impossible that I must have been missing something. Here is a link to the on-line version of the mailer. It’s a little different, in that they elaborate a bit on the impeding of government regulation.

    It seems even worse to me.

New comments have been disabled.