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By W. Gardner Selby September 28, 2010

Todd Staples says U.S. Constitution provides for just compensation when government takes land

Republican Todd Staples, the state agriculture commissioner seeking re-election against Democrat Hank Gilbert, is no lawyer.

But he kinda played one in a Sept. 16 interview on an Austin radio station. Staples, pitching for listeners to sign an online petition urging the 2011 Legislature to embrace "true eminent-domain reforms," told KVET-FM morning hosts Bob Cole and Bucky Godbolt: "What we're talking about is a basic constitutional right of property owners. Our United States Constitution says that if eminent domain has to be used, a property owner must be justly compensated, period."

The Bill of Rights says pay up? Get out (that's just an expression).

The actual language doesn't say "must," but the meaning aligns with Staples' comment. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says no private property shall "be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Nationally, Staples is among figures to air frets about the power of government to "take" property for declared public  purposes, in part reacting a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in Kelo v. City of New London, upholding a community's right to take property for an economic redevelopment project; the plaintiff had maintained the city's plan for her land did not constitute "public use" under the Fifth Amendment.

According to an April 2009 article in the American Bar Association's Journal, 43 states enacted statutes or constitutional amendments restricting the use of eminent domain in the wake of the court ruling, while at least five state supreme courts issued rulings to "significantly impede government power to take private property."

In Texas, the federal ruling contributed to the 2009 Legislature proposing a state constitutional amendment which voters adopted last year. The amendment prohibits the taking of private property for transfer to a private entity for the purpose of economic development or to increase tax revenues, according to the Texas Secretary of State's office.

Gilbert has questioned Staples' bonafides for talking up laws against government taking private property without just compensation. In a Sept. 17 press release, the Democrat singles out measures Staples supported as a state senator to suggest he's not always aligned with private property owners.

That sally may be valid; we're not judging it here. We rate Staples' statement to KVET as True.

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Our Sources

American Bar Association Journal, article, "Where's the Revolution?" April 1, 2009 (accessed Sept. 24, 2010)

Hank Gilbert campaign, press release, "Gilbert to Staples: Stop Being A Hypocrite, Quit Lying, And Own Up to Your Record," Sept. 17, 2010 (accessed Sept. 21, 2010)

KVET-FM, Austin, audio of interview of Texas Agriculture Commissoner Todd Staples, Sept. 16, 2010

Texas Secretary of State, website, "Explanatory Statements for the November 3rd, 2009 Constitutional Amendment Election," (accessed Sept. 21, 2010)

U.S. Constitution Online, website, "Amendment 5 - Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Taking" (accessed Sept. 21, 2010)

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Todd Staples says U.S. Constitution provides for just compensation when government takes land

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