Eminent Domain

IJ Defends Homes and Businesses from Government Land Grabs

“A man’s home is his castle.”

Based on this centuries-old honored principle, the Institute for Justice seeks to restore strict limits for when the government can use eminent domain.

  • We have filed 14 cases to stop the government from taking property, including the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London.
  • In 2015, a judge ruled that a New Jersey state agency would not be allowed to condemn the longtime family home of local piano-tuner Charlie Birnbaum, unless it could produce more evidence to justify the taking. The ruling saves the home from the wrecking ball, for now.
  • Our fight against eminent domain abuse has been profiled by Barron’sThe New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, 60 Minutes, 20/20 and many others.

Under the power of eminent domain, the government can take private property. For years, the 5th  Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and similar provisions in state constitutions greatly restricted this power. Under the Constitution, eminent domain must be for a “public use” and provide “just compensation” to the property owner. Traditionally, these “public uses” have been understood as public projects such as schools, roads, infrastructure and public utilities.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote a blank check for local and state governments to abuse eminent domain in the now infamous Kelo v. New London decision. IJ represented Susette Kelo and other homeowners in New London, Conn., to save their homes from being demolished. But in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court instead upheld the taking of their homes under the guise of “economic development.”

Our fight against the abuse of eminent domain, however, was far from over. Kelo v. New London quickly became one of the most reviled Supreme Court decisions and sparked a national firestorm. Since that decision, 44 states have reformed their eminent domain laws. A dozen states have gone even further and amended their state constitutions to stop eminent domain for private gain. In nine states, courts either rejected Kelo or strengthened protections for property owners.

Much progress has been made, but we still must challenge eminent domain abuse in states that either refuse to change their laws or have weak reforms. We are also vigilant to watch the return of abusive condemnations.

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