Mississippi Churning

Interesting development concerning eminent domain law comes to us from Mississippi. As was the case in some other states, following the wretched 2005 Kelo case in which the U.S. Supreme Court (by a 5 to 4 decision) permitted the condemnation of private property for “economic development,” a clearly private commercial use, in 2009 the Mississippi legislature enacted a new eminent domain law curbing this practice. But Governor Haley Barbour vetoed that legislation and the Mississippi Senate was unable to override his veto.

Undeterred, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation set out to curb abuses of eminent domain by the initiative process. But as soon as the initiative petition qualified for the ballot, one of Barbour’s political allies, who also happens to be Barbour’s appointee to the Mississippi Development Authority, filed suit to enjoin placing the eminent domain initiative on the ballot, on the grounds that under Mississippi law, the state Bill of Rights may not be modified by initiative.

As applied to these facts such an interpretation of the proposed amendment would lead to an absurdity — the people of Mississippi would be precluded from enlarging their constitutional rights by initiative. So far, Judge Winston Kidd of the Mississippi trial court ruled (on July 29, 2011), in favor of permitting the eminent domain initiative to be placed on the ballot. To get the story as reported by the Associated Press, click here

There is an interesting political/ideological wrinkle to this story. Republicans, as they never tire of telling us, are supposed to be favorably inclined toward private property rights and opposed to government encroachment on those rights. It’s the leftist liberals, so goes the theory, who are hostile to private property. But here, Barbour is a Republican. Not only that, but before becoming Governor of Mississippi he was the Republican National Chairman. So we can’t help wondering how he squares his position on Mississippi eminent domain reform with the position of conservative Republicans?

And it isn’t just a case of abstract ideology. Mississippi is one of the worst actors when it comes to abuse of eminent domain power. It was Mississippi that used that power to forcibly acquire land for Nissan and Toyota car factories in that state. Which also happens to have been a form of economic warfare against the American car industry that was driven into bankruptcy by its Japanese competitors enjoying American government subsidies, like those car factory sites provided on the cheap by Mississippi’s [mis]use of the power of eminent domain for “economic development.”

So with conservatives like that, who needs radicals?

Stay tuned for the next chapter — the losers in that Mississippi trial court decision (allowing the initiative to proceed), are talking about appealing Judge Kidd’s decision.

Follow up. Predictably, the losers have filed an appeal. Click here.  The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered that briefs be filed by August 12, 2011. Stay tuned.

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