The duty to respect individual property rights has been a part of the law since the Decalogue included the commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” But for just as long, governments have included an exception for the state in the form of “eminent domain.”
The term eminent domain was taken from the legal treatise by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in 1625, which used the term dominium eminens (Latin for supreme lordship) and described the power as follows:
… The property of subjects is under the eminent domain of the state, so that the state or he who acts for it may use and even alienate and destroy such property, not only in the case of extreme necessity, in which even private persons have a right over the property of others, but for ends of public utility, to which ends those who founded civil society must be supposed to have intended that private ends should give way. But it is to be added that when this is done the state is bound to make good the loss to those who lose their property.
For most of U.S. history, the “ends of public utility” meant the government could take property to build highways and railroads. But in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified private redevelopment plans as a permissible “public use” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
At the time, Acton president Rev. Robert Sirico said that, “In the Supreme Court’s “new” ownership society, the very safety and security of God-given, inalienable rights are threatened.” That has been the general position of most every conservative and libertarian since the unfortunate ruling was handed down. But there are some people who think taking private property and giving it to others for their private use is “wonderful.” People like Donald Trump.