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November 5th, 2012 — By — In News & Events

Eminent Domain is Question 1 on Election Day in Virginia

Tomorrow when Virginians go to the polls Commonwealth voters will have an opportunity to not only cast their vote for the many candidates running for political office but also for a constitutional amendment relating to eminent domain.

Question 1 on the Virginia ballot reads as follows:

Shall Section 11 of Article 1 (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended (i) to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damages is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use?

If Virginians vote in favor of Question 1, they will be voting in favor of private property rights and against the government’s misuse of the power of eminent domain.  In a Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post published yesterday, Steve Anderson an attorney with the Institute for Justice in Arlington, explained that “Virginians require a unique solution because their constitution contains an odd quirk: “The General Assembly is explicitly permitted to change the definition of “public use” – what delineates how eminent domain can be used – from year to year.  Question 1 simply declares the right to property as fundamental and prevents further politicizing of the government’s power to forcibly acquire property.”

If Virginians vote “Yes” on Question 1, they will be voting in favor of more fully compensating those affected by eminent domain including for economic losses to one’s business that occur as a direct result of the taking, rather than merely providing “fair market value” for the property acquired.  As Gideon Kanner points out in this post today, “the most egregious aspect of that legal reality is the rule that under which nothing is paid for businesses that are damaged or even completely destroyed by the taking.”  If Virginians vote Yes on 1, they vote in favor of providing business and property owners compensation for both economic losses and loss of access that results from the taking.

In a recent piece in The Roanoke Times, Virginia Owners’ Counsel member Joseph Waldo argued in favor of Question 1, “We would not be voting Nov. 6 on a property rights constitutional amendment if every public official acted with such admirable restraint and respect.  Economic temptation and political pressure have led too many officials to stretch eminent domain laws to condemn property for shopping centers and offices, or to shortchange property owners, particularly the elderly, minorities, the uneducated and politically powerless.”

“The system has failed to write rules and to abide by them.  On Nov. 6, Virginians can write the rules themselves by voting yes.  Once in the constitution, property rights will be beyond the reach of those who would take them away,” said Waldo.