Castle Coalition Continues the Grassroots Battle Against Eminent Domain Abuse
By Steven Anderson
Castle Coalition members and Ardmore residents and business owners, from left, Dr. Eni Foo, Betty Foo, Sharon Eckstein and Scott Mahan testify before Pennsylvania House Committee.
In true Institute for Justice fashion, within one week of the U.S. Supreme Court’s dreadful Kelo decision, the Castle Coalition launched the Hands Off My Home campaign, an aggressive initiative to effect reform of eminent domain laws at the state and local level.
The importance of the campaign cannot be underestimated—the decision opened the floodgates to continued eminent domain abuse. Just hours after the case was decided, Freeport, Texas, made legal filings to condemn two seafood businesses in order to build a private marina. Less than three weeks after the announcement, the City of Sunset Hills, Mo., voted to condemn 85 homes and small businesses to build a $165 million lifestyle center.
But the response across the country in opposition to the case and the abuse of eminent domain has been overwhelming—and the outcry is translating into action. While Supreme Court decisions often divide the nation, every poll indicates nearly universal, nationwide outrage against the decision, uniting disparate groups interested in arresting this growth of government power. At last count, legislators from more than 30 states and the U.S. Congress were considering eminent domain reform bills. Alabama swiftly enacted more-restrictive condemnation laws, and though it still leaves a significant loophole for bogus blight designations, it’s a good first step. Texas Governor Rick Perry soon thereafter signed similar legislation. Local governments from coast to coast are also moving to restrict their power, which is another positive sign.
The Castle Coalition has been active at the state and federal level every step of the way. We held our annual Eminent Domain Activist Conference in early July, inviting home and small business owners to Washington, D.C., to learn tools and techniques necessary to save their property. Some are already beginning to organize at the state level, an important move for statewide change. One of the top priorities for the Castle Coalition in the near future is to ensure we have state networks across the nation, and it’s good to see some of this occurring spontaneously now.
We’ve been highly sought after by legislators and citizens alike for specific ideas on what state and local governments can do to make sure that what happened in New London does not happen anywhere else. We are the group to go to on eminent domain reform. Members of the Castle Coalition team have provided testimony in Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana and Pennsylvania already—and we expect to be engaged in legislative reform in many other states as representatives return to work at the beginning of next year. Congressional hearings began in earnest in September and these will hopefully result in bills that withhold funding from governments that use eminent domain for private development purposes.
Our website (www.castlecoalition.org) has become the central repository for information related to the Kelo case and eminent domain abuse. We’ve added a significant amount of content, including model legislation and current controversies, and much more will be coming in the future, along with a new look and additional features. As always, we continue to work at the grassroots level to stop government from taking private property for private gain.
Given the current climate, there is no better time to be a part of the Castle Coalition. As we grow in both size and scope over the next few months, we are confident that the success we’ve had in the past will continue—and we’ll all be safe in our castles.
Steven Anderson is coordinator of the Castle Coalition.