Mississippi Eminent Domain

Lonzo Archie, a Mississippi property owner of modest means, eloquently sums up the feelings of many Americans: “You can buy a house, but you cannot buy a home.” The Archie family has made its home on 24 acres of land in Madison County, Mississippi, for decades. But if the State of Mississippi had its way, the Archies would have been forced to move elsewhere to accommodate the demands of a private company.

In November 2000, the Mississippi legislature struck a deal with Nissan Motor Company to build a new auto plant in Canton, Mississippi. The State also granted the company more than $290 million in subsidies and tax breaks and approximately 1,300 acres of land. But apparently that wasn’t enough for Nissan. In February 2001, the State exercised its awesome power of eminent domain—quietly granted by the Nissan legislation—to forcibly take the property of the Archies and transfer it to Nissan.

The State’s use of eminent domain is part of an unfortunate trend where land is taken not for a public use—such as a bridge, post office, or public school–but at the behest of a private company for its private use. The Institute for Justice, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, helped Madison County property owners buck this trend.

A state official overseeing the project admitted in The New York Times that the Archies’ land was not necessary for the Nissan project, but that his office pursued the taking to save face for the State. On September 10, 2001, the Times quoted James C. Burns, Jr., the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, “It’s not that Nissan is going to leave if we don’t get that land. What’s important is the message it would send to other companies if we are unable to do what we said we would do. If you make a promise to a company like Nissan, you have to be able to follow through.”

In September 2001, the Supreme Court of Mississippi stayed the condemnation proceedings against the Archies, ensuring that nothing was going to happen to their homes or land until the Court determined the constitutionality of the takings. This stopped the State dead in its tracks and frustrated Nissan’s construction plans.

IJ briefed the issues in the Mississippi Supreme Court throughout the earlier part of 2002, but, in early April, the State announced a stunning reversal of its position. Late on a Friday, after the Archies rejected a settlement offer, the State announced that Nissan would redesign its truck manufacturing facility so that the Archie family could hold onto their land and homes. The State also withdrew its eminent domain lawsuits against the 24 acres of property and several homes owned by the family. This tremendous victory for the Archies was an inspiration to property owners in Mississippi and throughout the country battling capricious takings for the benefit of private interests. With the help of the Institute, the Archies stood up to their state government and one of the world’s largest automakers—and won. They are modern day folk heroes.

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