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One year later, Kelo home still stands

Posted by Richard on February 23, 2006

One year ago yesterday, on Feb. 22, 2005, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kelo v. City of New London. The intrepid libertarian litigators at the Institute for Justice eventually lost in court, but they’ve since won a resounding victory in the court of public opinion. And Suzette Kelo still has her home:

The little pink house in New London, Conn., that started a nationwide property rights revolt still stands one year after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments and then eventually ruled that it could be torn town for private development.

But the future of that home—and of every home, small business, church and farm—remains in question. Will state and local legislatures change their laws to protect private property from eminent domain abuse (where the government’s power of eminent domain is used for private gain in the guise of creating more jobs or increasing taxes), or will lobbyists representing developers and cities block meaningful reform?

The Kelo ruling ignited a firestorm that’s still raging across the country. This year, at least 37 state legislatures are considering bills that would restrict the use of eminent domain. Ending eminent domain abuse seems to be a uniquely appealing issue about which a broad spectrum of people feel very strongly:

"It’s open season on eminent domain," said Larry Morandi, a land-use specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Bills are being pushed by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and they’re passing by huge margins."

Seldom has a Supreme Court decision sparked such an immediate legislative reaction, and one that scrambles the usual partisan lines. Condemnation of the ruling came from black lawmakers representing distressed urban districts, from suburbanites and from Western property-rights absolutists who rarely see eye to eye on anything. Lawmakers from Maine to California have introduced dozens of bills in reaction to the ruling, most of them saying that government should never seize private homes or businesses solely to benefit a private developer. 

In Colorado, the State Senate just unanimously passed a bill to rescind a 19th-century law permitting private developers to condemn land for toll roads. And a ballot initiative is in the works to strengthen property rights in the Colorado Constitution:

Colorado Citizens For Property Rights, together with state Representative Al White, R-Winter Park, recently announced a proposed ballot initiative that seeks to combat eminent [domain] abuse in our state. If passed by voters this November, the initiative would introduce language to the Colorado constitution that would make it illegal to take private property for the sole purpose of generating more revenue through an alternative use. 

The Institute for Justice is at the forefront of the nationwide battle for property rights. It’s been leading the way in both litigation and public relations for more than a decade, making its first big splash by defeating Donald Trump’s effort to take Vera Coking’s home for an Atlantic City casino expansion project. IJ’s offshoot, the grass-roots Castle Coalition, has been tremendously effective in local battles and legislative efforts.

But IJ isn’t just about property rights. This libertarian public interest law firm fights for economic liberties, successfully litigating against license and permit requirements and other barriers to entry that restrict employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. IJ also fights for freedom of speech, especially political and commercial speech, school choice, and more.

I’ve been an IJ supporter for about a dozen years, and I can’t think of a more effective place to invest some dollars to fund freedom. Support the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition. Do it for Suzette Kelo. And yourself.

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