The U.S. Constitution is generally very careful about what the government can and can’t do. The Founding Fathers outlined a government that would not have the same tyrannical power as a monarchy like the U.K. So when the government is given power by the Constitution, it’s usually for something that would benefit the greater good. One such instance is that of “public use.”
The Constitution states that property may be taken away from individuals by the government for public use provided that the government pays a fair compensation. Traditionally this has been used to create public goods such as parks, highways, or schools. The general consensus is that this is a fair use of government power.
However, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court went a very different direction with what is considered public use. They ruled that a decision that encourages economic development is protected under public use. Therefore, if the city could gain a higher tax value by taking a woman’s home and allowing Wal-Mart to build on the property, they could do so under public use.
As you might imagine, this was a very divisive decision, and many people felt that it was an abuse of government power. As a result, many states decided to enact legislation that would strengthen their laws regarding eminent domain to combat this decision. Many states, such as South Carolina, have elected to exclude economic development as a basis for taking property. North Carolina on the other hand, has not enacted laws to strengthen property right protections.