Hands off our property

North Dakota State Roundup

Published November 1, 2005  | November 2005 issue

In a move stemming directly from a recent landmark Supreme Court decision, North Dakotans will likely see a ballot initiative asking to restrict local governments from taking private real estate for the purposes of economic development.

In a June decision, dubbed the Kelo ruling after one of the plaintiffs, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the city of New London, Conn., had the authority to invoke eminent domain on local residents and businesses—forcing them to sell their homes and offices, to the government if necessary—so the city could go ahead with a major planned redevelopment in a depressed part of town.

The ruling has many people nervous about overanxious governments pursuing economic development projects. In North Dakota, two efforts are under way to amend the state constitution to restrict the use of eminent domain for economic development and to protect property owners from what some believe is an unlawful taking. One initiative is by former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp, and another comes from the Landowners Association of North Dakota. More than 25,000 signatures are needed to put the matter to a public vote.

The state Legislature could also decide to put the matter to a statewide vote, but it meets only biennially, and does not convene again until January 2007.

Ronald A. Wirtz