Kelo: one year later

Though the previous post is much longer than the usual fare offered here, I strongly encourage readers not to skip over it. It presents in considerable detail a case of eminent domain abuse occuring right now in the DC area. It is, unfortunately, just one case of thousands like it occurring in the US this year. Yet this one brings the issue home for me. Having visited the business in person and seen firsthand how it has affected the owners and loyal customers, it really makes me sick. Moreover, this is one case that it may not be too late to stop.

Coincidentally, I posted my entry about Barry’s Magic Shop precisely one year after the infamous Kelo decision that legitimized and encouraged just these sorts of abuses by local governments. The Institute for Justice — where would we be without them? — has marked the anniversary with the release of five publications about eminent domain abuse.

Most notably, Opening the Floodgates documents how the Kelo decision has emboldened local governments and private developers to use force or the threat of force to seize the property of individuals and small businesses. According to IJ’s research,

In just one year since the ruling, local governments pressed forward with more than 117 projects involving the use of eminent domain for private development. Local governments threatened to use eminent domain against more than 5,429 homes, businesses, churches, and other properties if the owners did not agree to sell, and government also filed or authorized at least 354 condemnation actions. These 5,783 properties either threatened or condemned for private development in a single year are more than half the 10,282 in the five years between 1998 and 2002.

If there is one bright side to Kelo, it is that it has raised awareness about eminent domain abuse and instigated nearly universal disdain for the practice. In researching the previous post, I was amazed at how many people made reference in some form or another to the decision. They all resented the Supreme Court for it, rightly blaming it for making the rights to the property where Barry’s is located so much harder to defend.

The IJ publications are available here. I have skimmed them all and plan to revisit some in further detail. The accompanying press release provides a good summary, but everyone should look over Opening the Floodgates. It spans 104 pages, most of which are devoted to documenting, state by state, examples of using eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another. Legislative Action Since Kelo is also interesting, describing actions by state legislatures to limit eminent domain takings to truly public purposes. (Maryland, alas, did nothing.)

Finally, I learned via Tom Palmer that President Bush issued an executive order yesterday instructing that federal eminent domain takings shall not be used to transfer property to private developers. This isn’t all that enforceable and most of the abuses come from local governments anyway. But still, how often do I get the chance to praise Bush? Nice work, Mr. Prez.


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