Trump Does Not Understand Eminent Domain Law

The other day we had a comment on the Trump-Cruz contretemps over eminent domain, and you can read it here:…ent-domain-about/ Tonight, at the Republican ABC debate, he and Bush they had at it again and this time Trump made it painfully clear that he does not understand the law of eminent domain or indeed what the controversy that is roiling the country is all about.

Trump argues that eminent domain is a wonderful, necessary thing; that without it we would not have roads, public buildings etc. What he fails to understand is that the controversy over eminent domain that has the country in an uproar, deals with something entirely different. The problem is the misuse of the sovereign power of eminent domain, not for public uses as specified in the constitution, but rather for purely private endeavors — like the Poletown caper in Detroit where the city blew some $200 million to take an unoffending middle-class neighborhood in order to raze it to the ground and give the land to General Motors at a fraction of its value, so GM could build a new Cadillac plant there instead of in Ohio. So did it work out? No. The new GM plant never achieved anywhere the employment level it promised. And of course in the long run GM went bankrupt. And so did Chrysler in spite of receiving a similar deal in Detroit v. Vavro.

Trump also appears to be under the impression that condemnees get  several times the value of the taken land. If it only were so! When landowners take a condemnor to the cleaners that happens because the condemnors — as is their wont — tend to underestimate values and make lowball offers to prospective condemnees, hoping that the latter will accept the lowball offer, which they do often enough to justify the practice. For an explanation of how and why this is done by condemnors, see the discussion at 40 Loyola L.A. L. Rev. at pp. 1105-1110.

Anyway, we find it astounding that the subject of eminent domain has been raised to such prominence. There we were for the past half-century, in our little “dark corner of the law,” minding our business and handling some eminent domain cases, when — Shazam! — along came the wretched 2005 Kelo majority opinion and with it the uproar that has been with us ever since, and that now has been raised to a hotly debated issue in presidential politics. Don’t that beat all?