by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ruling against Susette Kelo and six other homeowners, the court upheld a plan by New London, Conn., to use the power of eminent domain, not for a public use, like a courthouse or a bridge, but to build a private development project. The court said the government could legally seize ordinary Americans’ homes and businesses and hand them over to politically connected private interests.
In Kelo’s aftermath, thousands of Americans were uprooted, with victims more likely to be black, Hispanic, elderly, or poor. Far beyond New London, the Supreme Court’s outrageous decision empowered municipal officials to abuse eminent domain.
In the first year after Kelo, the Institute for Justice, which represented the New London homeowners, found that “local governments threatened eminent domain or condemned at least 5,783 homes, businesses, churches, and other properties so that they could be transferred to another private party.”
Most Americans were surprised that the court could rubber-stamp such a blatant land grab. Determined to channel that outrage into real, sweeping change, the Institute for Justice launched an ambitious litigation, public-affairs, and lobbying campaign. In the decade since the Kelo case, 47 states have enacted legislative reforms or issued court decisions to protect property owners from eminent-domain abuse. Working with activists nationwide, IJ has saved more than 16,000 homes, businesses, places of worship, and other properties from demolition.
More needs to be done. Loopholes mar nearly half of the state-reform statutes. Most commonly, local governments can declare well-tended homes and businesses blighted, and then seize them with eminent domain.