Definition of Eminent Domain

What do the terms “eminent domain” and “condemnation power” mean?

“Eminent domain” and “condemnation power” are often used interchangeably. Eminent domain is the inherent power of the state and federal governments—and certain private companies acting under their authority—to take private property for public purposes. “Condemnation of property” has a couple of meanings. Condemnation is the formal act by which the authority with eminent-domain power uses that power to transfer title from the private property owner to the condemning authority. This act should not be confused with the exercise of police power to “condemn” property for failure to maintain it.

What are the constitutional bases of eminent-domain power?

The text of the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly grant eminent-domain power to the federal government, but the U.S. Supreme Court has explained that “[t]he power of eminent domain is essential to a sovereign government.” United States v. Carmack, 329 U.S. 230, 236 (1946). The Fifth Amendment places important limitations on the use of that power when it states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Fifth Amendment protects property owners by forcing the government to pay “just compensation” for the property taken and by permitting the government to condemn private property only when it does so for a “public use.” Likewise, Article I, Section 17 of the Texas Constitution guarantees property owners “adequate compensation” when their property is “taken, damaged, or destroyed” for public use.


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    Justin Hodge and Luke Ellis are partners with Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge in Houston, Texas. Mr. Hodge has received recognition as a “Rising Star” in eminent domain, and has been involved in some of the largest landowner recoveries and judgments in Texas condemnation history. Luke Ellis is widely recognized as one of Texas’s top young lawyers—and one of the top lawyers of any age practicing in the area of eminent domain. Mr. Ellis has broad experience and has enjoyed success in many types of civil litigation. If you have questions about any of the issues raised in this blog, we invite you to discuss them with us at or

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