VA Votes to Protect Property Rights

On Tuesday, three quarters of Virginians voted to amend the state's Constitution to protect property owners from eminent domain abuse by the government. 

Question 1 amends Section 11 of the Virginia Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The amendment protects property owners from eminent domain abuse, and is the result of a seven-year struggle. The struggle started after the Supreme Court infamously ruled in Kelo that a Connecticut city could take the home of a private citizen, give it to a private business and deem it a "public use" on the mere promise that the business would bring the city tax revenue.

According to Institute for Justice, the amendment "declares the right to property to be fundamental and fixes an odd quirk that allowed the General Assembly to redefine public use based on politics rather than sound policy." The Institute for Justice litigated the Kelo case and was instrumental in getting Question 1 on the ballot.

The new language also gives "property owners the possibility of recovering compensation for lost profits or access while preserving the use of eminent domain for traditional uses like roads, courthouses and utilities" and "explicitly disclaims the Kelo decision’s rationale and requires condemning authorities to prove their use of eminent domain is legitimate."

Steven Anderson, chief financial officer at the Institute for Justice, said "This is a triumphant result for property owners around Virginia. Now every home, small business, church and farm will have constitutional protection against eminent domain abuse."

After the Kelo decision in 2005, the Institute for Justice, along with the Virginia affiliates of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Farm Bureau, worked to advance the amendment across the state by launching the "Hands Off My Home" campaign to combat the effects of the case at the state level. 

The Institute of Justice notes 44 states have since changed their laws to make it tougher for governments to acquire property by eminent domain and Virginia became the 12th state to restrict eminent domain by constitutional amendment. 

“Thankfully, our federal system allows states to provide greater protections for its citizens through their state constitutions than the federal Constitution provides; the U.S. Constitution provides a baseline off of which each state can then offer heightened protection for individual rights,” Anderson said. “In an era of severe partisanship and divisive campaigns, it is unmistakable that all Virginians believe a man’s home is his castle. Question 1’s passage is a fitting exclamation point on a bipartisan struggle to ensure everyone keeps what they’ve worked so hard to own.”

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