Dominium Eminens

Dominium Eminens is Latin for "supreme lordship" and was adopted as a legal term back the 1600’s when most people still had kings for rulers. Evidently we have some judges on our US Supreme Court who think they have been born with, or have earned the right to rule over American citizens as such. So they conspired once again to invent new law.

This scary term has taken on a whole new even more sinister meaning than the now obsolete one used up until last week in most legal dictionaries. Eminent Domain: “The right of the government to take property from a private owner for public use by virtue of the superior dominion of its sovereignty over all lands within its jurisdiction.”

With a simple five vote majority of nine people who pledged to protect our US Constitution, our private property rights have been handed over to a select group of individuals who in most cases are far, far removed from taxpaying citizens in ideology and goals for our state’s future.

These individuals are the ones I trust the least in municipal government; zoning and planning board members, all manner of appointed officials, lawyers, municipal/regional planners and code enforcement officers. I don’t trust them because they are not answerable to taxpayers. Let’s stay with a NH perspective to keep this interesting and because it is what I know best.

I was asked to sit in for one meeting back in the mid-eighties on a “master plan” meeting in my town. Our Regional Planning Commission was there to “facilitate.” (In other words, run a Delphi scam. Look it up).  The RPC spokesman asked what was important to our town, so a member of our conservation commission said: “the lake properties.” The facilitator stopped our CC member before he finished and said: “Oh don’t worry about that. If you work your zoning right you can take that land from them.”

No one at the table but me blinked an eye. I will never forget that meeting and it changed forever how I look at and deal with these people.

Recently NH had an eminent domain issue before the legislature that exposed the extreme ends some people will go to in a lust for more power. Take State Representative Mike Scanlon of Bedford for instance. I have to mention he is on the Bedford ZBA and is a freshly minted member of that town’s regional water commission as well.

This character came up with HB527 allowing regional water districts the power of eminent domain just two years after the legislature drafted and passed language to prohibit it. This simple change in the law brought so many people opposed to this bill out of surrounding towns the committee voted 16 – 0 Inexpedient to Legislate.

Why? Because it was a bill loaded with potential for abuse just like the Supreme Court decision granting cities the right to cut deals with business to take private property.

Could a regional water district in NH declare eminent domain over a water system in another district under Rep. Scanlon’s defunct HB527? It isn’t clear so off to the lawyer’s offices we go.

Would a public hearing and voter approval be needed for a regional water district to take a private well or property under Scanlon’s bill? Who knows the law didn’t say. Pony up a portion of your life and savings to find out.

Can an unelected city planner with a majority of aldermen decide to wipe out a low income neighborhood for a private company’s benefit because that company would possibly enlarge the tax base or is this in reality an effort to remove a certain voting block, minority, or stratified group of people with school age children? Maybe you have a friend with a huge law firm that will find out for you. The company has lawyers and assets. Welcome to the roller coaster ride through litigation hell.

Let’s say you had a home you bought 30 years ago and you watched as the planners and developers built up everything all around you. The city built sewers, roads, schools, fire stations and you paid your ever escalating taxes every year. Finally, your property is the one last piece in the puzzle and a company wants your house for expansion. Do you hold out for what the company will pay in real-world value for the property or will the company simply go see the Board of Aldermen, city assessor, and attorney - then write you a check and a bus ticket out of town. I think the US Supreme Court gave the answer this week.

One last thing about cases like this: most are only heard by judges. So in effect, Supreme Court Judges who just ignored the US Constitution are giving local judges the sole authority to decide your property rights. This is a bad deal for taxpayers. Centralized planning and land use regulations almost always are. Never vote for them.

Think about it. Would any of this pass muster with a jury? No way. Would most towns’ annual fifteen pages of planning and zoning changes survive open debate at a NH town meeting? Doubt it. That is why it is a non-debatable ballot item.

If this whole issue seems hard to understand just think of the Supreme Court Decision this way.

Grandfathered property and uses no longer exist.

Takings are now legal.

Ready to do something about it?

Ed Naile, Chair
Coalition of NH Taxpayers