Monday Hearing Will Decide If Mississippians Can Vote on Eminent Domain Reform

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 22, 2011

Jackson, Miss.—Will Mississippians get a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment designed to protect their homes, businesses and land from eminent domain abuse in the upcoming November election?

This is the question being decided at a hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. on Monday in the courtroom of Judge Winston Kidd at the Hinds County Courthouse, located at 407 East Pascagoula Street, Jackson, Miss.

Initiative 31 would amend the Mississippi Constitution so government agencies that take private property by eminent domain for a public use must own and use that property for 10 years before selling or transferring it to a new, private owner. Restricting the transfer of the property the government acquires by eminent domain discourages the forced transfer of property from one private owner to another private owner under the guise of “economic development.”

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Jackson Chapter, and the Mississippi Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, represented by the Institute for Justice and Hernando, Miss., attorney Paul R. Scott, have asked the court to accept a friend-of-the court brief in support of the Initiative appearing on the ballot.

Leland Speed, head of the Mississippi Development Authority, which uses eminent domain to take property from private owners, often transferring it to other private owners for the purposes of “economic development,” has filed a lawsuit to keep the initiative off the ballot. Attorneys representing the Mississippi Secretary of State will argue that the initiative should remain on the ballot. The state is joined by David Waide, an individual who was one of the main proponents of the initiative and who has intervened in the lawsuit to defend it.

“When eminent domain is abused, it hits the poor, the elderly, and racial and ethnic minority neighborhoods hardest. We need eminent domain reform in this state,” said Stephanie Parker-Weaver, Executive Secretary of the SCLC, Jackson Chapter.

Since the 2005 case of Kelo v. City of New London, in which the U.S. Supreme Court permitted a Connecticut neighborhood of homes and businesses to be taken by eminent domain for a private development that promised a hotel, office buildings and jobs, 43 states have passed eminent domain reform to discourage the abuse of eminent domain. Although the homes and businesses in the New London neighborhood were demolished, the new development was never finished and failed to bring the promised economic benefits. Mississippi is one of only seven states that has not yet enacted any type of eminent domain reform since the Kelo ruling.

“Mississippians deserve a say in whether their homes, farms or businesses can be taken by eminent domain and later handed over to others for private profit,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner.

“Small businesses want to know that they can operate and grow without being pushed out of their buildings or off their land so government can give it to other, larger businesses,” said Ron Aldridge, State Director of the NFIB for Mississippi. “It’s small business, not big business, that produces two out of every three new jobs, and they shouldn’t be treated like second-class property owners.”