Eminent domain is the inherent right of the government to take private property that is owned by a private citizen and convert it to public use. The primary purpose for eminent domain is the “public use.” Typically, this entails taking property, usually land, in order to build roads, bridges, and public utilities. Without the ability to take private property, the government would essentially be powerless to facilitate commerce which is required by the “Commerce Clause” of the United States Constitution. The main use of eminent domain throughout American history was to create better means of transportation for all American citizens through roadways, waterways, docks, ports, and railways. However, what constitutes public use in recent years has been altered slightly by the courts.
The public use must be apparent at the time of the taking and not hypothetical. The public use requirement is one of the Constitutional limits placed on the government’s power to exercise eminent domain. Our founding fathers understood the importance of allowing eminent domain, but also understood the importance of protecting the right to own property as well. The takings clause limited when the government could take private property and placed an additional stipulation for when they took property-the doctrine of “just compensation.” However, public use has been expanded in recent years to include economic development as well.
Therefore, public use is no longer limited to possession or direct enjoyment of what used to be private property. Instead, it is more accurately defined as the taking of private property by the government in such a way that is advantageous to the general community. The government considers the taking as advantageous to the public even if the land is subsequently given to a private entity. The crux that allows the government to give the land to a private entity is the presence of a general public advantage from the conveyance.
Although the “public use” requirement has been expanded in recent years, the main purpose of eminent domain is for the public benefit. If you have been impacted by eminent domain, then you should call an eminent domain attorney immediately to see if your property is being taken for a proper public use.