Colorado Supreme Court clears the way for future abuses of Eminent Domain power for property seizures in Colorado

At a recent event in Golden, Colorado (at the Independence Institute) a panel of experts discussed the state of individual property rights in the face of mounting attacks by government entities abusing the power of eminent domain to seize land and other holdings for a variety of “public interest” reasons.

According to the findings of their recent publication, “From New London to Telluride and Beyond, Legal Developments Surrounding Eminent Domain in Colorado from 2004-2009,”  the greatest threat is currently being generated by property seizures for “transit-oriented development” (think modern-day “Robber Rail Barons” – but with the power of government).  The panel concluded that these modern-day rail barons, led by the Denver-metro Regional Transportation District (RTD), “could usher in a new era of eminent domain abuse in Colorado.”

Although the government power to exercise eminent domain to seize property for “public use” (such as public utilities, waterways, roads, and, yes, railroads) has long been recognized, it has also long acknowledged not only a requirement for “just compensation” to the original owner, but strict limitations on what constitutes “public use.”  That long-standing consensus, codified in the U.S. Constitution’s 5th Amendment (“”…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) was shattered by the infamous 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case, Kelo vs. New London, in which the heavily divided court upheld a Connecticut government’s ability to take a woman’s small home for the purpose of transferring ownership to a privately-owned pharmaceutical giant that could purportedly generate greater tax revenue.

The Colorado Legislature, responding to public outrage over the Kelo decision, enacted new protections for property owners in the 2006 legislative session, designed to curb the worst abuses of eminent domain power by state and local government entities.

However: the express intent of the legislature, and the will of the people of Colorado, was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court in the infamous “Telluride Land Grab” case (Town of Telluride vs. San Miguel Valley Corp) in June 2008. 

This case upheld the exercise of eminent domain by the town of Telluride over property OUTSIDE the town limits – and thus, one  would think, outside the jurisdiction of the town.  … The upshot of the ruling is that ANY home rule entity (municipality) can exercise eminent domain ANYWHERE in the state (NOT bounded by geography).

Local and regional government entities have become increasingly bold in their exercise of eminent domain power since the Telluride ruling.  The Colorado Supreme Court has negated the efforts of the legislature to impose at least some reasonable restrictions on the use of this power – which has destroyed many long-standing businesses and uprooted homeowners around the state.  This Supreme Court, in its arrogance, recognizes no limitations on its own power, or that of government in general.

THIS is Colorado’s Kelo case – if you’re a property owner )or if you ever wish to become one) be afraid… be very afraid.

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