Hallmarks of the Institute for Justice’s defense of its clients’ constitutional rights include thinking creatively and trying new tactics. Never was this more apparent than in our fight to save 60 buildings and more than 120 small businesses in downtown Pittsburgh from Mayor Tom Murphy’s plan to take the properties through eminent domain so he could hand the land over to a Chicago developer to construct a private mall.
In June 2000, IJ took its public interest tactics to new heights—literally—posting 10 billboards (each measuring 12 feet high by 25 feet wide) calling the public’s attention to the City of Pittsburgh’s plan to abuse eminent domain. Six different messages appeared in the ads, including one that was located only blocks from Mayor Murphy’s office. That billboard read, “Murphy’s Law: Take from Pittsburgh Families. Give to a Chicago Developer.”
As a result of this campaign and the threat of litigation by the Institute for Justice, Mayor Murphy was forced to once and for all take eminent domain off the table as a threat against property owners in the threatened Fifth and Forbes neighborhood.
In 2001, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America awarded the Institute for Justice a silver medal in recognition of its effective media plan and billboard campaign.
In the fight to protect home and small business owners from the government’s abuse of eminent domain, it was only a matter of time until the apologists of the practice—taking property from one private individual and transferring it to another—began their counteroffensive. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous and widely despised decision in Kelo v.…