"Most people would be shocked to discover that governments across the nation are taking individuals' homes only to transfer that property to a favored business or neighbor, or that businesses are often being condemned so that another business can take their property and make a larger profit."
So wrote Institute for Justice Attorney Dana Berliner five years ago at the founding of the Castle Coalition. The shock remains, but much progress in the fight against eminent domain abuse has been made since.
This month, the Castle Coalition celebrates five years of helping ordinary people protect their land from overreaching local governments now emboldened by the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London.
The Castle Coalition grew of out of the Institute for Justice’s work in courts of law and in the court of public opinion defending property rights. Institute for Justice President Chip Mellor along with IJ staffers Dana Berliner, Scott Bullock, John Kramer, Bert Gall among others launched the Castle Coalition in 2002 after realizing that home and small business owners needed more than just legal help to combat eminent domain abuse.
“We kept encountering people who were months, even years, from litigation,” explained Bullock. “People were starting to hear ‘blight’ mentioned, and towns were starting to talk about taking property. We saw the need to have people who were dedicated to the fight and have the means, know-how and wherewithal to fight.”
IJ recognized past cases in which a well-organized, media-savvy group of citizens were able stop cities from taking private property for private gain before the situation reached the courts.
For example, under threat from the mayor of Pittsburgh, business owners in the Fifth & Forbes district held rallies, distributed fliers, spoke at every public forum they could, and, with help from IJ, launched a billboard campaign to stop the city from taking their businesses for a revitalization plan.
Likewise, a group of citizens in New Rochelle, N.Y., came together to protest the proposed building of an Ikea that would have required the demolition of an entire working-class community. After several protests, including one at the Swedish consulate in New York, Ikea dropped its plans.
Using Pittsburgh and New Rochelle as models, Bullock, Berliner and Kramer developed a workshop-like conference in which they could hold training sessions for property owners under the threat of eminent domain and teach them strategies for grassroots activism, dealing with the media, and preparing for litigation. These same strategies have proven themselves successful over the past five years with successes in big cities like Chicago, suburbs like Sunset Hills, Mo., and small towns like Coatesville, Pa.
The Castle Coalition became even more important and vital after the Kelo decision in 2005. Since the decision left it up to the states to reform eminent domain laws, the Castle Coalition increased its focus on legislation at the state-level to ensure legislators provided the most comprehensive protections for property owners. Since Kelo, 34 states have passed reforms.
With thousands of members, the Castle Coalition looks forward to growing even more in the next five years, as well as continuing what has worked so well over the past five years. All told the Castle Coalition has formally trained hundreds of activists and counseled many more, hosted nearly a dozen national and regional conferences and provided the best tools available to fight the abuse of eminent domain outside of the courtroom.
“We’ll continue to increase our offerings to activists and make sure they are well-equipped for their grassroots battle,” says Castle Coalition Director Steven Anderson. “The stakes are too high – we’ll always remain vigilant.”
To become a member of the Castle Coalition sign up at our website.
 Dana Berliner, Government Theft: The Top Ten Abuses of Eminent Domain 1998-2002 (Washington, DC: Institute for Justice, 2002) 12.