Where Does Obama Stand on the Misuse of Eminent Domain?

In response to our recent blog on Senator Obama’s confusing position on the subject of eminent domain abuses (What’s the Matter, Senator Obama? Cat Got Your Tongue? May 19, 2008), we received a comment from a fellow who identfied himself only as Stephen. He quarrels with an earlier reader comment, and presents us with what he says is a copy of a letter he got from the Obama campaign, explaining where Obama stands on the eminent domain issue. Here it is:


Dear Stephen,

Thank you for contacting us about eminent domain. We appreciate hearing from you on this important topic.

Barack Obama is a strong supporter of property rights and recognizes that low-income and elderly people are often the ones most affected when government takes private property. As president, Obama will support legislation that balances the rights of property owners and the interests of local communities in economic development. He will press state and local governments to clear a high hurdle when taking property from private owners.

Obama believes the taking of property should be restricted to those instances in which there is a clear benefit to the general public, and the reimbursement to property owners should not be limited simply to the market value of the property.

In the Illinois State Senate, Obama sponsored a bill requiring reimbursements for eminent domain to be in excess of market value and to account for relocation costs. In the U.S. Senate, Obama expressed serious concerns about the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which made it easier to take property for private development. Obama believes the decision is flawed because it could lead to houses and farms being taken on behalf of more powerful and influential businesses and corporations.

Thank you again for contacting us.


Obama for America

Paid for by Obama for America


The problem with this statement is that if it is indeed genuine (and we have no reason to say that it isn’t, though we are trying to check it out) is that here again Obama is talking out of both sides of his mouth. Consider this statememnt: “Obama will support legislation that balances the rights of property owners and the interests of local communities in economic development.” Say what?! What does that mean? How is it posssible to support Kelo-style  “economic development” and at the same time say that it is “flawed” and talk about balancing the rights of property owners who are victimized by it? And what about the fact that Obama professes his admiration for the Justices who made the Kelo decision? How can that be reconciled with his professed concern for “low-income and elderly people [who] are often the ones most affected when government takes private property”?

And what’s a “high hurdle”? 

Note also that the letter talks in terms of a “clear benefit to the general public,” and doesn’t even mention the constitutional term “public use.” But that’s just the problem. In Kelo, the Supreme Court majority took the position that “public benefit” is a more accurate meaning, no less, of “public use.” We don’t think so. We are sure that if Senator Obama or Justice Stevens (the author of the Kelo majority opinion) were to drop in on a neighbor to borrow a lawnmower, neither of them would say. “Hi neghbor. Can I purpose your lawnmower?” No way.

It looks to us like it’s the same old story that motivated us to comment on Obama’s will o’ the wisp position on this subject. So our advice is, whether you do or don’t like the man as a candidate, be careful.  Be very careful. At least on this subject, he may be trying to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. Or something.

Update. Actually, it’s a non-update. The fellow who sent us the purported Obama campaign letter is not responding, so we can’t vouch for its authenticity. So take it for what it’s worth — and the way it looks to us, it isn’t worth much.

One thought on “Where Does Obama Stand on the Misuse of Eminent Domain?

  1. gideon

    We received the following belated comment:

    In case you were wondering where Barack Obama stands on Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court decision that allows wealthy interests to take the property of poor people because, well, their wealthy, duh!…and, based upon how many times this site gets found via Google searches on the matter, I’d say it is more than a few…you’ll be happy to know Obama supports Kelo in all its particulars.

    At least it seems so. He has been cagey, shall we say, about the issue, but all evidence points to Obama supporting it. Obama’s campaign website is silnet on the matter, but why wouldn’t it be? He knows better then all you little people.

    Posted by The Iconic Midwesterner at 11/04/2008 09:58:00 AM

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