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The Neglected Political Economy of Eminent Domain

51 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2006 Last revised: 21 May 2016

Nicole Stelle Garnett

Notre Dame Law School

Abstract

This Article challenges a foundational assumption about eminent domain - namely, that owners are systematically undercompensated because they receive only fair market value for their property. The Article shows that, in fact, scholars have overstated the undercompensation problem because they have focused on the compensation required by the Constitution, rather than on the actual mechanics of eminent domain. The Article examines three ways that Takers (i.e., non-judicial actors in the eminent domain process) minimize undercompensation. First, Takers may avoid taking high-subjective-value properties. Second, Takers frequently must pay more compensation in the form of relocation assistance. Third, Takers and property owners may voluntarily settle on above-market compensation during pre-condemnation negotiations. The Article concludes by reflecting upon current efforts to reform eminent domain legislatively. Prominent legal scholars recently have proposed compensation-based reforms as an alternative to constraints on the use of eminent domain. The final Part rejects this suggestion, arguing that there are two problems, unique to takings raising public use questions, that more money cannot solve: First, high compensation levels may undermine political resistance to questionable projects; second, private takings may generate non-instrumental harms that will persist even as compensation increases.

Keywords: public use, eminent domain, takings, compensation, economic development, Kelo

JEL Classification: H7, H70, K11, O1

Suggested Citation

Garnett, Nicole Stelle, The Neglected Political Economy of Eminent Domain. 105 Michigan Law Review 102 (2006); Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 06-01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=875412

Nicole Stelle Garnett (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556
United States
574-631-3091 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.nd.edu/faculty/facultypages/garnettn.html

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