Victory Over Eminent Domain in Virginia

November 20, 2012

Property rights are the foundation of all our rights. It is difficult to imagine the freedom of religion without the right to own a church or the right to free speech without the right to own a printing press. With that critical principle in mind, amid the fuss and flurry of this year’s presidential election, Virginians overwhelmingly passed—by a 3-1 margin—Question 1, a constitutional amendment designed to permanently end the abuse of eminent domain in the Commonwealth.

A fitting exclamation point as one of the final pieces of IJ’s Hands Off My Home campaign—which began mere days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo decision—Question 1 protects the rights of homeowners and small business owners in several substantial ways. The amendment declares that property rights are fundamental, a clear signal to an engaged judiciary to take a critical look at government takings. It remedies a constitutional quirk by removing the General Assembly’s power to redefine public use from session to session, levels the playing field on compensation, explicitly rejects the Kelo rationale by stating economic development is not a public use, and requires the government to prove that an actual and legitimate public use exists. Since IJ’s campaign began more than seven years ago, 44 states have changed their laws to better protect property. Virginia became the 12th state to ratify a constitutional amendment.

The victory caps off five years of work by IJ to promote this reform, working with a broad coalition of groups, including the state affiliates of the Farm Bureau and the National Federation of Independent Business. As a team, we met with newspaper editorial boards and the public to explain the virtues of the amendment—which now allows all Virginians to keep what they have worked so hard to own.

Steven Anderson is the Institute’s chief financial officer.

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