Gene Beaupré, director for government relations, discusses eminent domain and how Xavier students have gotten involved in the debate.
Why is eminent domain such a hot issue?
A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Kelo v. New London) incited a national debate about what limits ought to be placed on the government’s ability to take private property. That national debate, being played out state by state through legislation and litigation, found a classic case on the border of Xavier in Norwood, Ohio. Five Norwood property owners challenged the city of Norwood’s right to take their property for a redevelopment project. That challenge is now before the Ohio Supreme Court.
Why Xavier’s involvement in the eminent domain issue?
In sophomore year, students in the Philosophy, Politics and the Public honors program at Xavier examine the works of public intellectuals who have brought historical, philosophical and political approaches to the study of contemporary issues. When the state legislature established a task force to study eminent domain in Ohio following the Kelo decision, the honors students became engaged in the work of that task force, researching, attending task force hearing and, eventually testifying before the 24-person task force. In an effort to understand the broad meaning of this issue, the students traveled to Washington, D.C., meeting with organizations such as the Institute for Justice, Heritage Foundation, the Cato foundation, the National League of Cities, the American Farm Bureau and the International Economic Development Council, and with federal legislators (Congressman Steve Chabot, Congresswomen Jean Schmidt, council to Congressman Michael Turner and chief counsel of the House Judiciary Committee).
What does it mean to students to be involved in the issue?
The issue of eminent domain is at the heart of our political beliefs. Students had the opportunity to struggle with the basic question of community rights versus property rights, even as it is being litigated at the highest court in the state and being debated in the state legislature. They didn’t just study a policy, they participated in the public debate about what state and constitutional law should be. Students met with plaintiffs in the Norwood case, lawyers for the city of Norwood and the developer, a wide range of interest groups, and federal and state legislators. It is accurate to say that the students became policy experts on the issue of eminent domain. In the end, however, the greatest challenge to the students was to force them to take a position on a very complex and controversial public policy issue through their public testimony and op-ed pieces.