Eminent Domain Through the Backdoor in Montgomery

This June 23rd marks the sixth anniversary of the infamous Kelo v. New London decision in which the Supreme Court declared that government commands the authority to seize land through eminent domain using nearly any allegation of public benefit; this includes taking land from one private owner and transferring it to another under the guise of economic development.

The popular backlash against this decision has since spurred 43 state legislatures to enact protection against eminent domain abuse. In some cases, however, the practice continues through loopholes and backdoors. One of the most egregious and persisting perversions transpires in Montgomery, Alabama.

While Alabama’s state legislature has forbidden government condemnation of land through eminent domain except in the case of publicly-funded projects, Montgomery has enacted the convention of eminent domain through the backdoor. That is, by invoking a local blight ordinance, the city of Montgomery has the legal authority to deem a residence a public nuisance under the vague standard of poor design, obsolescence, or neglect and thereafter demolish it against the will of the owner.

David Beito, charged with investigating this practice on behalf of the Alabama State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has denounced this practice: “We have good evidence that these homes are not in fact blighted,” he says. “Property owners are losing their land and I think that there is good reason to believe it often ends up in the hands of wealthy developers.”[1]

In August 2010 citizens of Montgomery gathered at a town hall meeting to condemn this practice as a violation of their rights that must stop. But their vociferous protests have gone unheeded. Since the town hall meeting at least 35 houses have been demolished, an estimated 25 of which were once called home by residents forced to abandon their property.

Click here and here to see pictures of two Montgomery homes that have been approved for demolition via public nuisance laws.

[1] David Lewkowict, “Montgeomery’s New Civil Rights Struggle,” Fox News, August 3, 2010.