Donald Trump made the case for eminent domain at Saturday night’s ABC debate, arguing for the government’s right to seize property for infrastructure projects in exchange for appropriate compensation.
“Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for a country — for our country. Without it, you wouldn’t have roads,” Trump said. “You wouldn’t have hospitals. You wouldn’t have anything. You wouldn’t have schools. You wouldn’t have bridges.”
Trump is right. Eminent domain paved the way for major infrastructure projects now taken for granted in the U.S. Water supplies, highways, subways, and other sprawling public projects required the government’s power to buy private land. Eminent domain has also been used to create and preserve public parks, like Rock Creek Park in DC and Redwood National Forest in California.
Eminent domain isn’t always used for public projects, and is sometimes exploited to transfer private land to a private company. That’s where the controversy over its use divides conservatives. As Jeb Bush pointed out, Trump himself used eminent domain to try to seize property from an unwilling widow in order to build a limousine parking lot for his casino.
Jeb has used Trump’s support of eminent domain to attack the business mogul in campaign ads as well as during the debate. But Trump pointed out that big projects popular with conservatives, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, have similarly taken advantage of eminent domain. TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL Pipeline, used eminent domain to intimidate landowners along the pipeline route. Conservative opponents of eminent domain stayed silent at the time.
The issue is particularly sensitive in New Hampshire, as the state is currently embroiled in a debate over the Northern Pass project. That plan, which has dragged on for years, would take land to build a route to transfer hydro-power from Canada into the state. New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan has been skeptical of the project.