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There has been a lot of issues regarding, notably how hard it is for states to aquire execution medicine from pharma companies. Companies which routinely refuse to provide (note, this is not political and this is only an example)

Can state/federal government force private companies into selling a good (like, those execution drugs)?

I would assume not, because private companies are mostly independent from the government and states have mostly resorted to shielding laws. Has that ever been tried?

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  • Doesn't Executive Order 6102 meet this criteria? Apr 23 at 9:40
  • Would treasure laws come under a "forced sale" to the state? In the UK, if a historical artifact is considered treasure, a private individual (or corporation, it is assumed) must, by law, sell it to any museum that wants it for a price set by an independent third party (which much be a price it would realistically fetch in an auction). The question is if a museum is considered part of "the state" or not. Apr 23 at 16:35
  • There was a story in France about a man who refused to sell his lands to the government who kept giving better offer. At some point, they used a law about the need of lands for building housing and forced him to sell everything at a loss. The lands have since been used to build student housings.
    – Clockwork
    Apr 23 at 17:45

1 Answer 1

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The tendency for governments in the U.S. to purchase goods from private firms in voluntary transactions is largely a policy choice (in part, consistent with a distaste ideologically for communism) rather than a question of legal authority.

Eminent Domain

A government can force property that already exists and is owned by a private citizen to be turned over to it in exchange for fair compensation, though the process of "eminent domain" (also sometimes called "condemnation").

Usually, this is done in the case of real estate where location makes each parcel of real estate unique and the government and property owner are locked into a one buyer-one seller situation. But the eminent domain power includes the power to take personal property as well as real property.

Compelled Manufacturing

The government usually prefers to buy non-unique property in ordinary, voluntary market transactions, and rarely needs to compel a firm to produce a good. But, the government does have some power to compel a firm to produce the goods it wants to buy, for example, under laws such as the Defense Production Act of 1950.

A private individual probably couldn't be compelled to manufacturer goods for the government under the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on slavery or involuntary servitude. But, soldiers can be (and have been historically) been compelled to do so, and corporations do not have 13th Amendment protections for themselves as entities.

In House Production

The government could also make goods itself rather than buying them from a third-party. State governments, for example, often use prison labor to produce license plates, since this doesn't set up a situation with the government is competing with private firms for something that they produce for the general public, with what amounts to slave labor.

There are five government owned, contractor operated, ammunition plants in the United States that belong to the U.S. Army.

Similarly, while the federal government usually encourages higher education with scholarships and research grants, it does operate several universities: several other military academies for which it is the only post-graduation employer of graduates, and one university for the deaf which the private market wasn't meeting the need for because its prospective student base was small and widely dispersed, and often has students who aren't affluent and have diminished post-graduation job prospects (on average).

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  • "corporations do not have 13th Amendment protections" -- could Citizens United be a precedent (corporations == people) that would confer such protections?
    – Barmar
    Apr 23 at 14:41
  • State arsenals to manufacture arms akin tio St. Etienne or Rock Island did and do exist since a long time as government manufacturies.
    – Trish
    Apr 23 at 15:16
  • @Barmar There is no plausible way to extend Citizens United to the 13th Amendment.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 23 at 16:43
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    @ohwilleke: Not anymore. That's going to be an enormous dig thorough slashdot now. There was a credible claim at the time the key holders would individually refuse even if Apple lost on appeal.
    – Joshua
    Apr 23 at 18:20
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    @Questor: It was rendered moot midway through appeal as somebody figured out a hardware bypass, which Apple promptly blocked in the next hardware revision.
    – Joshua
    Apr 23 at 18:47

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