In May, I finished my first year of law school and immediately began working for a local firm through the Sacramento County Bar Association’s diversity fellowship. What made this fellowship so special was that each week there was an educational legal event for the cohort of fellows to attend. Although all the events were inspiring, the session with the honorable Judge Ramirez was by far my favorite. As Judge Ramirez was sharing his upbringing and what shaped him, he mentioned a small detail that I could not stop thinking about; this detail being how through eminent domain his grandparent’s home was stripped from them to build the Dodgers stadium. I guarantee none of the other fellows were affected by that small detail of his story, but I was. I wondered what impact eminent domain had on my hometown of Sacramento.
Eminent domain is the right of the government to seize ownership over property when there is greater good that can be created for the general public. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires just compensation for seizures of private property. Pursuant to an ABC 10 article, the last time eminent domain was used in Sacramento was in May 2019 when the “Sacramento City Council-members voted to acquire land from six property owners in the Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhood to complete the Sacramento River Parkway Project.” The article continues by mentioning other situations where the city has used eminent domain. A notable construction is the Golden 1 Center where the Sacramento Kings play.
I first learned of eminent domain in my first-year property course and immediately thought it was wrong. I felt this way because I was fixated on the cons. A major con of eminent domain being that just compensation can be subjective and not always just. For example, property owners are typically not compensated for moving costs or the personhood they have with their property.
I did not appreciate the power of eminent domain until I had a candid conversation with my property professor. My professor shared the public benefits that can result from the government’s seizure and how this governmental power prevents the ability of one or a few owners to blackmail the government into paying more for land than what is reasonable. With the pros in mind, I am still cognizant of the great impact eminent domain can have on lower income populations.