Historic & Diverse Coalition Calls for Eminent Domain Limits In Ohio & Pennsylvania

John Kramer
John Kramer · November 30, 2005

Washington, D.C.—An historic and diverse coalition of traditional civil rights groups and other advocacy organizations have joined together in Ohio and Pennsylvania to call on state judges and legislators to end eminent domain abuse.

In Ohio, 12 organizations—including the Ohio Conference of the NAACP, the Ohio Farm Bureau, the Ohio Association of Realtors, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses—recently filed ten separate amicus briefs with the Ohio Supreme Court calling for reasonable limits on governments’ power of eminent domain. The Reason Foundation, a nationally renowned think tank, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberties, which litigates on religious liberty issues nationwide, also joined these organizations filing “friend of the court” briefs. (Copies of the briefs are available at /index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1409&Itemid=165.) Each organization described their unique concern with the abuses of eminent domain that have become all too common across Ohio and the nation. The briefs were filed in support of property rights in Norwood v. Gamble, a case litigated by the Institute for Justice that will determine whether Ohio cities can take and bulldoze non-blighted homes and small businesses for private development. All of the briefs asked Ohio’s High Court to protect the homes of Joy and Carl Gamble, Joe Horney, and Carol Gooch by upholding state constitutional limits imposed on government’s use of eminent domain. This is especially important after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London in which the court removed federal constitutional protection for homeowners.

Likewise in Pennsylvania, a similarly broad coalition—including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP, the Farm Bureau, National Federation of Independent Business and the Institute for Justice—is calling on state lawmakers to pass legislation protecting homeowners, small businesses, churches and other private property from land-hungry developers and tax-hungry state and local governments.

The organizations have banded together to call for passage of SB 881, the Property Rights Protection Act, which would prohibit the use of eminent domain for commercial development and tighten the definition of blight. (Under current law, an area can be razed if only 10 or 15 percent of its buildings have supposed “blight,” and the standards for determining blight are so lax they could apply to nearly any area in the state. Instead, the reform bill would require a majority of the property in an area be truly blighted to use eminent domain.) Cities would retain considerable leeway in blighted areas under the new law, as well as the long-standing ability to condemn abandoned, dangerous or severely tax delinquent properties.

The organizations are also urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to reject efforts by the Pennsylvania Association of Housing and Redevelopment Agencies to weaken this reform by amending SB 881 to allow the use of eminent domain against so-called “economic blight”—an exception that would essentially gut state constitutional protections for private property owners in the state, most especially for the poor.