Utah Seeks Supreme Court Battle Over Eminent Domain Power
Posted in Right to Take

I'm a California eminent domain attorney.  I work in Orange County, Los Angeles County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, etc.  I don't work in Utah.  I'm not even licensed in Utah.  Why, then, would I bother to blog about what is going on with eminent domain in Utah?

Quite frankly, because it amuses me.  The Utah Senate has now approved a law that authorizes the state to condemn property from the federal government.  You may wonder how can a state give itself the power to condemn property from the federal government.  The answer:  it probably can't --and Utah knows it.  

According to a March 10 article by Brock Vergakis in Business Week, "Utah plans to take US land through eminent domain," Utah's lawmakers are using the new law to create a legal battle:

The goal is to spark a U.S. Supreme Court battle that legislators' own attorneys acknowledge has little chance of success.

So why bother?  Probably a couple of reasons.  First, even if unlikely to succeed, the scheme could be incredibly lucrative if it works.  People bet on long shots all the time, and Utah apparently believes that the cost of this long shot is justified by the potential rewards. 

Second, I'm guessing Utah is trying to make a political statement in a very visible way (Supreme Court battles tend to do that).  They do not think the federal government is properly managing federal land, and they want to generate revenue off of land that, at present, does little to benefit the public.  And, this is not a minor issue, as the federal government apparently owns more than 60 percent of the state. 

I think the fight will be a fun one to watch.  Of course, I'm sitting here in California, and I'm not going to foot the legal bill of up to $3 million (that's how much the legislature authorized in spending to defend the new law). 

If the scheme works, I wonder if I could get someone to grant me the power to condemn land from the federal government . . . .

  • Rick E. Rayl
    Partner

    Rick Rayl is an experienced litigator on a broad range of complex civil litigation issues.  His practice is concentrated primarily on eminent domain, inverse condemnation, and other real-estate-valuation disputes.  His public ...

California Eminent Domain Report is a one-stop resource for everything new and noteworthy in eminent domain in California. We cover all aspects of eminent domain in California, including condemnation, inverse condemnation, and regulatory takings. We also keep track of current cases, project announcements, budget issues, legislative reform efforts, and report on all major California eminent domain conferences and seminars.

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