Grassroots Groundswell Grows Against Eminent Domain Abuse
Washington, D.C.—The public reaction to the Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has been widespread and nearly unanimous in its outrage. Homes and small businesses, churches and open pieces of land can now be taken by the government only to be handed over to private developers for their private gain, and the U.S. Constitution offers no protection, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.
But that doesn’t mean the fight is over. It only means the fight, for now, has moved to the states. In just the past two weeks after that seismic shift, grassroots activists and ordinary citizens across the nation have risen up to stop eminent domain abuse, and legislatures are responding.
“Now is the time for Americans to demand their state and local lawmakers protect homes and small businesses from eminent domain for private profit,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner. “Rarely does a single issue generate such universal outrage. Americans understand that the U.S. Supreme Court has declared open season on home and small business owners.”
Membership in the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition—a nationwide network of citizen activists determined to stop the abuse of eminent domain in their states and communities—has nearly tripled since the Court heard the Kelo case. Instant polls on national news websites show widespread opposition to eminent domain for private economic development. MSNBC.com readers oppose government takings for private development 98 percent to 2 percent; CNN.com readers 99 percent to 1 percent. Letters pages of newspapers nationwide are filled with dismay at the Court’s ruling. One New Jersey state legislator alone has heard from more than 1,000 of his constituents expressing outrage at eminent domain abuse.
Responding to the public outcry, lawmakers in 21 states and counting have taken swift action to curb eminent domain abuse. In the wake of Kelo, legislation has been introduced in seven states (Connecticut, Delaware, Texas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island) limiting the use of eminent domain for private projects or tightening eminent domain procedures, while lawmakers in another eight states (Alaska, Oklahoma, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Alabama and Wisconsin) have announced plans to introduce eminent domain legislation in upcoming sessions. Legislators in Georgia, New York and Virginia now hope to revive previously introduced bills.
In Connecticut, state legislators and Gov. Jodi Rell called for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain by all Connecticut cities until the legislature can revise the law to protect property owners. The moratorium should put New London’s plans to take IJ’s clients’ homes on hold.
Legislators in Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, New Jersey and Michigan are mobilizing to support state constitutional amendments prohibiting eminent domain for private development. Delaware, Missouri and Florida have created state commissions to study the use of eminent domain and ways of reining in abuse.
Texas, home to the first condemnations after the Kelo ruling, will also be among the first states to consider eminent domain reform. On Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry added consideration of statutory
changes and a proposed constitutional amendment to the agenda for the legislature’s special session beginning this week. Hours after the Kelo ruling, municipal officials in Freeport, Texas, condemned two family-owned seafood businesses for a privately owned marina project.
“Already, the Supreme Court’s ruling has emboldened tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers seeking to condemn land for private profit,” said IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock. “With no federal constitutional protection left, it is more important than ever for lawmakers to rein in unjust takings.”
The Institute for Justice is tracking condemnations for private profit moving ahead following the Kelo ruling here.
Federal lawmakers have also moved to curb eminent domain abuse. Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., introduced legislation in Congress that would bar federal funding for projects involving takings for private profit. By a large margin, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Kelo decision. The legislation has attracted bipartisan support, including from prominent Democrats such as California Rep. Maxine Waters, Michigan Rep. John Conyers and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling has inspired not just outrage, but a clear call for an end to eminent domain abuse. Nearly 40 activists and property owners from across the nation traveled to Washington, D.C., this past weekend to learn how to combat eminent domain abuse in their states and communities. At a conference hosted by the Institute for Justice, they learned the tactics of grassroots activism against eminent domain abuse and prepared to push for legislative and constitutional change in their states.
The event, the fourth annual Castle Coalition conference, is part of the Hands Off My Home campaign, a $3 million effort by the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition to give ordinary citizens the means to protect their homes and small businesses from government-forced takings for private development.
Also last week, more than 300 protesters from around the country gathered for a rally in New London before City Council’s first meeting following the Kelo decision, demanding, “Let the homeowners stay.” Protestors urged the City to develop the other 90 vacant acres it already owns and leave Susette Kelo and her neighbors alone. In an email survey, The Day newspaper in New London found nearly 90 percent of its readers opposed government takings for private development.
The New London rally was the first of many protests against eminent domain abuse in the works by Castle Coalition activists nationwide.
“The Court’s ruling has galvanized people across the political spectrum,” said Castle Coalition Coordinator Steven Anderson. “Americans are appalled that their local governments can seize their homes and small businesses to benefit other wealthier people—and they are organizing to stop the abuse.”
As part of the Hands Off My Home campaign, the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition are calling upon state governors, state legislators and municipal officials to sign a formal pledge promising to oppose efforts in their state 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. Citizens can view the pledges, contact their governors, join the Castle Coalition and learn how to get involved in Hands Off My Home at www.castlecoalition.org.