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October 23, 2005

Miers and Cronyism in Eminent Domain Payouts

What kills you is when a story reinforces an existing story. And if Harriet Miers is being condemned as a crony appointment, then Miers getting a judge to appoint a crony to evaluate her family's land in an eminent domain proceeding just could kill her nomination:

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers collected more than 10 times the market value for a small slice of family-owned land in a large Superfund pollution cleanup site in Dallas where the state wanted to build a highway off-ramp.

The windfall came after a judge who received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Miers' law firm appointed a close professional associate of Miers and an outspoken property-rights activist to the three-person panel that determined how much the state should pay.

This reflects either total corruption or stupidity and obliviousness to conflicts of interest -- take your pick. Either should bar you from the Supreme Court.

Post-Kelo, there's been a lot of discussion about when the government can take property in eminent domain proceedings, but far too little about how to properly compensate landowners.

On one hand, there are good arguments for paying people more than the regular value of the land for personal property because of the non-tangible value of the property to a family.

But the flip side is making sure that courts aren't manipulated to give large payoffs in eminent domain proceedings to land owners. In Miers case, she received $5 per square foot for potentially polluted industrial land, land that had been assessed as just 30 cents per square foot.

A basic rule of thumb should be to compensate landowners based on the property tax assessment level. Landowners often push to keep those assessments down to keep their property taxes down as well, but they shouldn't expect compensation from the government for a higher price than they are willing to pay property tax on.

I noted on Friday that Miers family had financial problems. Unfortunately, it looks like Miers may have tried to fix them through payouts from the government.

Now, if she was willing to extend that philosophy of charity to the economically distressed for all American families, I might be more favorable towards her appointment. But somehow I suspect her solicitude on the bench will be far more limited.

Posted by Nathan at October 23, 2005 07:39 AM