Somin Comments on Virginia Amendment to Limit Use of Eminent Domain

Commenting on Virginia's upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment to limit use of eminent domain, Professor Ilya Somin said, "Virginia has one of the worst state constitutions in the country with regard to property rights." 

"Most state constitutions say you can only take property for a public use. But what the Virginia constitution currently says is you can condemn property for any reason the legislature defines as a public use," Somin added.

Local government officials in Virginia fear the amendment could increase the cost of public works projects by allowing land owners to seek damages from local governments if they can prove a loss of profits or of access. Legislators previously passed a law preventing government officials from condemning property for economic development or private use. Supporters of the constitutional amendment believe it would be more permanent that a statutory restriction.

"Institutionalizing it in the constitution prevents the legislature from backsliding on this later as they would quite possibly be inclined to do as public opinion moves on to other issues," Somin says. "In the short run, that part of the amendment would change very little, but it would entrench this against future change by the legislature, which I think is very important."

Voters to Determine Fate of Amendment to Limit Use of Eminent Domain, Alexandria Gazette Packet, October 29, 2012. By Michael Lee Pope.

"The language of the amendment goes beyond codifying the existing prohibition against taking private land for public use. It also creates a new way for landowners to seek damages from local governments if they can prove in court that they have lost access or profits. That concerns local government leaders who are worried that the new limitations might dramatically increase the cost of public works projects while inflicting unintended consequences on unsuspecting property owners."

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