Americans Say “Hands Off My Home”
By Chip Mellor
IJ Senior Attorneys, from left, Scott Bullock and Dana Berliner and Castle Coalition members William Giordano, Denise Hoagland and Lori Vendetti of Long Branch, N.J., all spoke out on how the Hands Off My Home campaign will advance property rights on the state level.
When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, both were incensed over the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which gave government a green light to take homes and small businesses to benefit private developers. Leno noted an instant poll showing 94 percent of respondents were in favor of the homeowners. Other online polls on national news websites showed 96 percent and higher opposed to eminent domain for private economic development.
Phone calls and emails of support from every corner of the country poured in to Susette Kelo and the other New London homeowners facing eviction (many offering to chain themselves to the houses to prevent demolition). Messages of outrage and dismay were directed at officials in New London and filled newspaper letters-to-the-editor pages nationwide.
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Rarely does a Supreme Court decision generate such uniform and widespread outrage. Decisions on passionately held beliefs like religion or politics typically provoke more discord than agreement. Clearly, Americans understand just how threatening the Court’s decision is for ordinary home and small business owners everywhere.
It will not take long for tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers to capitalize on this ruling. Many cities held off on eminent domain actions, waiting for the Supreme Court to decide Kelo. Now, with a thumbs-up from the Court, these cities can be expected to move aggressively. Some already have. Within days of the decision, officials in Freeport, Texas; Lake Zurich, Ill.; Arnold, Mo. and many other cities cited Kelo in moving forward with condemnations.
In its first-of-its-kind nationwide study of eminent domain abuse, the Institute for Justice was shocked to find more than 10,000 similar instances of actual or threatened condemnations for private development in just a five-year period. There is every reason to expect a breathtaking expansion of that number is right around the corner.
That’s why the Institute for Justice and its Castle Coalition announced a $3 million “Hands Off My Home” campaign, an unprecedented financial commitment to halting eminent domain for private profit. “Hands Off My Home” will focus the universal wave of opposition to the Kelo ruling into the only meaningful venue left for home and small business owners in desperate need of protection: state courts and state legislatures.
In just the first year of “Hands Off My Home,” we will:
Ask state courts to enforce the “public use” limitations found in every state constitution. While the federal Constitution sets a floor of rights, state constitutions can amplify and raise those rights above the federal level, giving homeowners greater protection.
Support citizen activists nationwide who are urging their state and local officials to set stricter standards for the use of eminent domain.
Establish a Castle Coalition presence in every state so ordinary citizens will be poised to mobilize the minute the power of eminent domain is abused for private ends.
Draft state and federal model legislation.
Host a conference in Washington, D.C., to train activists in fighting unjust takings.
You can join the Castle Coalition, urge your governor and legislators to sign the eminent domain pledge, write letters to the editor, inform us of any eminent domain abuse in your area, and make sure IJ has the resources to wage this historic campaign by sending in a contribution today.
After all, there is no better way to celebrate the spirit of American independence than by demanding our elected officials follow the spirit and the letter of the U.S. Constitution and thereby preserve the American Dream.
Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.