From the capital of Russia to the banks of the Ohio River to the Korean peninsula, people the world over are coming together to fight a global menace to core human rights. That human rights violation, which has upended or even destroyed countless lives through the machinations of their own governments, is eminent domain.
In a new book of collected essays, Eminent Domain: A Comparative Perspective, editors Iljoong Kim, Hojun Lee and Ilya Somin take a deep dive into the common ways eminent domain has been used globally on private property for development projects in different economic situations—and the conflicts that inevitably arise. Somin, a professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, is a former Institute for Justice (IJ) law clerk who has collaborated with IJ on property-rights amicus briefs and other projects over the years. The book compiles academic papers originally presented at the 2015 “Shifting the Paradigm for Sustainable Development: Eminent Domain and Property Rights” conference in Seoul.
As Lee notes in a Volokh Conspiracy article in the Washington Post, the essays’ authors examined advanced and emerging economies like the United States, Germany, European Union, and Taiwan. They also devote some special attention to Korea, where eminent domain has been causing serious conflict been its victims and instigators, particularly in Seoul. The essays note, for instance, that awareness of and active opposition to eminent domain took off internationally after the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 2005 Kelo v. New London decision struck a devastating blow to Americans’ private property rights that still haunts the nation to this day.
As Somin explains of the inspiration behind the book,
“To my surprise, the American debate over Kelo generated widespread interest abroad, as well. I was contacted by scholars and journalists as far away as China, France, and South Korea. The Kelo case struck a chord in these and other countries because they have been grappling with many of the same issues as we had.”
Regardless of the country or type of governments involved, the results of eminent domain are remarkably predictable: the poor and politically weak find themselves marginalized by the state for the benefit of the politically powerful.
In other words, governments the world over are trying to manufacture economic “development” by trampling the civil rights and lives of citizens they consider to be “in the way.”
Within the United States, IJ has long led the fight to protect property rights from abusive government, including Kelo and its aftermath. In Atlantic City, IJ attorneys are preventing the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority from using eminent domain to demolish a man’s home because a recently-bankrupt casino happens to be nearby. In Long Branch, New Jersey, IJ stopped the city from colluding with a private developer to destroy a lower-income scenic community and build upscale condominiums in its place. IJ’s ongoing legal battles include stopping Elberton, Georgia from forcibly reducing an office building to a hotel walkway and preventing Charlestown, Indiana Mayor Bob Hall from skirting legal protections against eminent domain to replace the working-class Pleasant Ridge neighborhood with upscale “redevelopment.”
Kim, Lee and Somin’s new book promises a serious look at the substantial amount of work left to do to protect property rights from government abuse at home and abroad.