IJ’s $3 Million National Campaign Tells Lawmakers: “Hands Off My Home”

John Kramer
John Kramer · June 29, 2005

Washington, D.C.—The Institute for Justice and its grassroots group, the Castle Coalition, seeks to do what the U.S. Supreme Court refused to do last week when it issued its ruling in the Kelo case allowing eminent domain for private development: protect ordinary homeowners and small businesses from eminent domain abuse.

Through IJ’s Castle Coalition—a nationwide network of citizen activists determined to stop the abuse of eminent domain in their communities—the Institute for Justice today announced the “Hands Off My Home” campaign to give ordinary citizens the means to protect their homes from government-forced takings for private development. The Institute also made an initial commitment of $3 million to fund the national effort to combat eminent domain at the state and local level. IJ made the announcement less than one week after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Kelo decision allowing governments to take property from the rightful owner only to hand it over to another private party for his or her private gain.

“The floodgates to eminent domain abuse are already opening in the wake of the Supreme Court’s dreadful Kelo decision,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice. “The Hands Off My Home campaign will empower ordinary Americans to fight back against eminent domain abuse and to stop this un-American alliance between tax-hungry politicians and land-hungry developers.”

“The American people are furious about this decision, but they can do something about it,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney. “In this next year, the Castle Coalition will encourage and coordinate grassroots efforts to end eminent domain abuse in states and cities. At the same time, the Institute for Justice will ask state courts to enforce their state constitutional limits on the use of eminent domain for private development. And the next time we get to the Supreme Court, it will overturn the Kelo precedent.”

“One would be hard-pressed to think of a recent Supreme Court decision that has generated such widespread and virtually unanimous outrage,” said Chip Mellor, the president and co-founder of the Institute for Justice. “We will take this energy and put it toward productive activism.”

As part of their Hands Off My Home campaign, the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition’s immediate plans are to:

  • Pursue state-level litigation to enforce the “public use” limitations found in every state constitution.
  • Today issue a formal pledge for governors in each state to sign promising to oppose efforts in their states to use the government power of eminent domain for private development, and to support legislation and other efforts to ensure that citizens of their state are safe from eminent domain for private development. IJ and the Castle Coalition will soon extend this pledge to legislators and city officials nationwide.
  • 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 eminent domain is abused for private ends. Citizens can join the Castle Coalition at www.castlecoalition.org.
  • Host a conference in July in Washington, D.C., to train activists in fighting unjust takings.

Bullock said, “We’ll be working across the country, but we’re not giving up on New London, Conn. On July 5 at 6 p.m., there will be a rally at the New London Town Hall to ask the City Council to save these homes and allow Susette Kelo, the Dery family and the rest of the homeowners to stay in Fort Trumbull. The City and the New London Development Corporation don’t need these homes to accomplish their private development projects, and we will ask them to finally do the right thing and let these people stay in the homes they know and love.”

Steven Anderson, the coordinator of the Castle Coalition, said, “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. But IJ will be there every step of the way to stop eminent domain abuse.”

Among many such examples of this trend, Anderson cited officials in Freeport, Texas, who immediately began legal filings to seize small businesses to make way for a private boat marina.

Among the small property owners who addressed the press conference was Scott Mahan from Ardmore, Penn., who may lose his small business to government-forced redevelopment. Mahan said, “Anyone who owns a piece of property anywhere in this country is at risk after the Kelo decision. Now people are finally seeing that this isn’t just homeowners in New London, Connecticut, or business owners in Ardmore, Pennsylvania; it can happen to anyone, anywhere.”

Denise Hoagland, a homeowner from Long Branch, N.J., who is fighting to save her ocean-front home from a private development project that would replace her home with upscale condominiums, spoke for many homeowners nationwide who are fighting this kind of abuse when she said, “My home is a part of me, a part of my family, and we are part of a community. Owning a home is the American Dream and to have it forcibly taken away to benefit someone else is against all of the principles of what being an American is about.”