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Opinion >  Letters

Compensate for closures

COVID-19 has presented governments with an unusual case of what appears to be the exercise of eminent domain; and so far, without adequate, or ‘just’ compensation.

Eminent domain is the power of government to take private property for public use without the owner’s consent. In a Supreme Court ruling in 2005 the court held the term ‘public use’ should be understood to mean ‘public purpose’.

The proliferation of mandatory work stoppage and stay at home orders issued by many jurisdictions should logically fit within the definition of a government taking private property for public use. Simply put, various jurisdictions have forced businesses to close and fire staff. This has been to safeguard us all. That sounds like a public use to me; and the action was taken unilaterally and without the explicit consent of those directly affected. Businesses have failed and individuals bankrupted.

That government can take property with just compensation is a very old legal construct; based on the idea that the taking is to benefit the entire community, therefore the entire community should make whole the owner of the property taken. It is unjust to make a few pay the cost of a benefit to all.

The same consideration applies to the actions of governments to cause substantial financial losses to companies and individuals for the benefit of us all. The cost of compensation must be included in the decision to seize assets. We must make them whole. Otherwise, this is theft, not ‘just’ government action.

Bob McKean

Liberty Lake


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