Castle Coalition: Much Achieved, Much To Do
By Steven Anderson
The Institute for Justice continues its work to transform the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo decision into a nationwide victory for home and small business owners so they are better protected against the abuse of eminent domain than ever before. Now, only a little more than one year after the decision, 34 states have increased property rights protections for property owners—with the latest round of reforms coming during the recent November elections.
Much of this success can be attributed to the Castle Coalition’s hardworking team, which helped legislators and citizens alike improve the ability of property owners to keep what they’ve worked so hard to own. And, as you’ve read in these pages, even where there was no legislative change, state supreme courts—thanks to IJ’s litigators—are properly interpreting their own constitutions and rejecting the narrow majority’s rationale in Kelo.
The work, however, is far from over. Though we saw remarkable changes in places like Florida, Pennsylvania and Arizona, several states still allow local governments to transfer property from one private individual to another. Using similar criteria to those we developed before the 2006 legislative sessions, as well as the ratings contained in our soon-to-be- released legislative report card, we have prioritized the states in order to determine where we will focus our resources this year.
That means we’ll continue working in Texas to ensure the blight loophole that remains from its 2005 reform attempt is closed. To lay the groundwork, we’ve already testified and spoken at events around the state, defining the problem and offering the solution. Virginia—whose constitution allows the General Assembly to define public use (very broadly, unsurprisingly)—will also be a prime target for reform. We were recently invited by the Speaker of the House to discuss eminent domain abuse and the need for change in the Commonwealth. Although Ohio has very good caselaw after our Norwood victory, more must be done to reform cities’ uses of bogus “blight” designations. We will work to make sure everyone in Ohio is as protected as our clients Carl and Joy Gamble.
Opponents of eminent domain reform, however, have been mobilizing for months, ready to attack those of us who believe that the phrase “public use” actually means what it says. In fact, in one missive, IJ itself was singled out and our research methodology assaulted—to which we have responded with a new report titled, Dreher and Echeverria: Disinformation & Errors on Eminent Domain, published in January. It may also be necessary to defend some of the 34 state reforms, as the beneficiaries of eminent domain abuse work to undercut the gains we helped achieve.
In addition to legislative work, we will redouble our efforts in another area where we have historically been successful—activism. Right now, we are confronting the reality of a future predicted by Justice O’Connor who observed that those without political power will be most negatively affected by the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision. To that end, we are working with home and business owners in El Paso, Texas; Arlington Heights, Ill.; and Seattle, Wash., to ensure the powerless are heard and their properties are protected.
It’s an exciting and daunting year ahead, no doubt. Thankfully, though, with our track record, we can expect many successes.
Steven Anderson is IJ’s Castle Coalition director.