But there's been one person who's supported that Supreme Court decision and defended eminent domain for years. And that would be none other than Donald Trump. Trump is one of those private developers who has fought for eminent domain to be invoked to speed up his construction plans in the past. And he doubled down on his support for the process in front of a conservative audience at a GOP presidential debate in February when he said: "So many people have hit me with commercials and other things about eminent domain. Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for a country, for our country. Without it, you wouldn't have roads. You wouldn't have hospitals. You wouldn't have anything. You wouldn't have schools. You wouldn't have bridges. You need eminent domain."
Of all of Trump's controversial statements during the course of the campaign, that was probably the one that got the least enduring coverage and was forgotten the fastest. But top Trump advisor Steve Bannon said something eerily similar in an interview just published by the Hollywood Reporter:
"The conservatives are going to go crazy," Bannon said. "I'm the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement."
And unlike a lot of other Trump statements and policy positions, this time the actual record proves this is something he deeply believes. Trump has fought for government help in condemning and clearing the way for his projects in the past, most famously in his battle to buy and demolish a home owned by a widow named Vera Coking that was literally right in the middle of the old Harrah's Casino property. Trump ultimately failed in his efforts to get Coking to move in return for millions of dollars. Then he lost the court case to have the property condemned. Years later the house was sold for less than $600,000. By then, Trump had long since walked away from the fight but he called the outcome "sad" and Coking's opposition "frankly very foolish."
That may very well be the mindset of Trump and Bannon as they approach their big idea spending programs. If the Obama administration's "shovel ready" stimulus failure tells us anything, the government alone cannot really start a major infrastructure project on its own. The Trump team is going to need to show far more visible results and create a lot more jobs in a shorter period of time. And the only way to do that is to help private industry launch a large series of stalled projects currently buried under red tape that includes property rights battles.
That's where eminent domain is so likely to come into the equation, and you can bet the staunch conservatives who stayed "NeverTrump" throughout the election will push back on what they'll see as blatant statism. Conservatives who do favor more land development, construction, and drilling and fracking have long argued that private companies should simply seek out multiple possible locations for those projects and offer very generous cash payments to the private property owners who are the first to agree to sell. But that kind of religious ideological and economic belief just isn't going to fly with a Trump administration that has so many blue-collar voters and blue-collar states to thank for its election victory. Trump isn't just going to want to repave roads and beautify city parks. Bannon's trillion dollar dreams more likely include a lot of new buildings, massively improved airports, and possibly even mass transit options that will all need larger private industries to leap frog over big government, small business, and individual private land owners at something a lot faster than the usual glacial pace.
But Bannon and Trump probably know they have an ace in the hole in this battle and it will likely be the labor unions. A number of union leaders like UAW President Dennis Williams have already taken the pragmatic approach to the election results and have now publicly come out in support of Trump's efforts to renegotiate NAFTA and other U.S. trade deals. Similar support would probably come from the AFL-CIO and all the other unions connected to construction and development for truly shovel ready projects led by private companies. And that kind of union support should serve as a major chilling effect for the Democrats and other liberals now grappling with the fact that they've lost Middle America. In other words, pushing back against massive job creation is a political hot potato a lot of conservatives and liberals, at least the smart ones, will want to avoid.
None of that changes the fact that eminent domain is indeed an ethically problematic process that often doesn't produce the promised results. But it's a tool Trump has a long-documented affinity for and one that a crucial and emerging segment of the voting public is likely to support if it does produce those promised jobs. Conservative and liberal true believers had better get prepared.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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