Despite the pleas by the menacing alliance of tax-hungry municipalities and land-hungry developers to do nothing, legislators across the country are quickly moving to fix their abysmal eminent domain laws. The problem of eminent domain abuse was highlighted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s dreadful decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which gave governments the green light to take your home or business and give it to a politically connected private developer because that developer might be able to produce more taxes and more jobs off of your land.
In a relatively short period of time, legislators in more than two dozen states and the U.S. Congress have either proposed or promised to propose legislation that would significantly protect property owners from unauthorized government land grabs. Alabama recently passed a reform bill, which was signed by Governor Bob Riley. Given the amount of outrage on the issue, from across the political spectrum, we expect other states to follow suit.
We’ve also seen changes at the local level, where cities and counties have declared that they won’t use eminent domain for private gain. Bowling Green, Kentucky, Patrick County (PDF), Virginia and Porterville, California have all passed reform measures, which shows that change at any level of government can further protect private property rights.
But we have to build on this momentum and continue to pressure the very governments that stand to gain by the Kelo decision. Significant eminent domain reform will only come when you make your legislators understand that their constituents universally disagree with the use of eminent domain for private development. There are well-paid and powerful interests working the halls of legislatures and city halls that are dedicated to defeating even the slightest roll back of government power—we’ve already seen their handiwork in Texas. It’s hard work, but vigilance is necessary to ensure that we can hold on to our homes and small businesses.
To do this, we ask each of you to organize to change the law in your city or county or state. We urge you to join the Castle Coalition, which will help you with the language for a constitutional amendment or statute and even work with your legislators, but now is the time to start organizing your friends and neighbors. Your local government will tell you there’s nothing to worry about, that it would never use eminent domain, or that it’s only as a “last resort.” Don’t believe a word of it. Your only protection is a change in the law (or good state court rulings, which is what the Institute for Justice is working on).
Together, there’s no doubt we’ll make private property safe again. For all Americans.