Protecting private property rights helped put the Institute for Justice on the map. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. New London allowing eminent domain for private gain was disappointing. However, although we lost the battle, we won the war: Following Kelo, 47 states strengthened protections against eminent domain abuse. But because government at all levels is constantly pushing against constitutional boundaries to infringe on Americans’ property rights, IJ remains vigilant and nimble.
Eminent domain for private gain isn’t the only way governments unconstitutionally deprive people of their property. Governments can also violate the Constitution when they take, or damage, property even for a public use. The Fifth Amendment is supposed to protect Americans from those “takings” too, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Ask the DeVillier family.
For years, the DeVilliers have operated a farm and ranch east of Houston. They never had a problem with floods—until Texas reinforced a flood-prone highway nearby, effectively creating a dam that floods their property, as well as several others, whenever there’s a hard rain. The flooding makes it nearly impossible for the DeVilliers and their neighbors to farm their land.
The construction was undoubtedly a public benefit, but the DeVilliers and their neighbors shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden. Yet when they sued for compensation under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, Texas argued the Takings Clause didn’t apply and there was no law requiring payment. Unfortunately, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. But the Constitution is the highest law in the land, and it cannot be ignored. Now IJ is on the case, and we have asked the Supreme Court to set things right.
This is just IJ’s latest property rights case. We have built on our successes challenging eminent domain abuse to tackle a whole range of cutting-edge property rights issues—from civil forfeiture and abusive fines and fees to unconstitutional zoning regimes and our latest project to better protect Fourth Amendment rights. Here’s a sampling of some of our ongoing cases and other efforts:
- Minnesota wants to move forward with a plan to pointlessly flood numerous family farms in the state’s far north. IJ’s activism team has organized farmers to fight back, meeting with legislators and making an evidence-based case against the plan.
- The FBI seized Linda Martin’s life savings and told her it wants to keep the money using civil forfeiture. But the FBI has never told Linda what she allegedly did wrong. Indeed, the feds routinely send people forfeiture notices that don’t explain the basis for forfeiture, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fight back. IJ is helping Linda get her money back—and end all such “take now, explain never” forfeitures.
- The TSA and DEA team up to identify people carrying “large” amounts of cash through airport security checkpoints and seize it using civil forfeiture—no evidence of wrongdoing required. IJ’s class action lawsuit seeks to stop this practice.
- For some Americans, living the American Dream means living in a home that they can afford without going into debt or that they can take on the road and travel around the country. But some cities use zoning to crush these dreams by mandating minimum home sizes or banning certain types of homes altogether. IJ is helping people fight back against such restrictions in Idaho, Georgia, and Arizona.
- IJ is also helping Americans overcome other zoning regulations that are about micromanaging property use, not protecting health and safety, including draconian restrictions on home businesses, nonsensical mandatory parking minimums, and abusive fines and abatements for code violations.
- A Seattle family wants to build a second home on their property for their adult children. Seattle’s code allows the addition—but the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability Program puts it out of reach. That’s because it requires paying into an “affordable housing” fund or building “affordable housing” units. Complying would cost Anita an extra $77,000—affordable housing, indeed. IJ is helping them fight back.
- The Constitution recognizes that a man’s home is his castle—and that includes not just the buildings in which we live but also the lands on which we make our homes. But some courts argue that our lands are “open fields” and therefore don’t receive privacy protections under the Fourth Amendment. With cases in Pennsylvania and Tennessee, IJ is suing to overturn the “open fields doctrine” and put an end to warrantless intrusions of privacy on wide-open land.
Respecting private property rights is essential to a just, free and prosperous society. That’s why IJ will always stand with people to defend their property when the government wants to take it or restrict them from using it in safe and reasonable ways to provide for themselves and their families.