- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
The Hands Off My Home campaign continued in 2007 to advocate state reform of eminent domain laws. Since the Kelo ruling, 42 states passed new laws aimed at curbing the abuse of eminent domain for private use—11 in 2007 alone.
The Hands Off My Home campaign helps home and small business owners across the country save their property from eminent domain abuse. Launched in June 2005, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Constitution allows government to use its power of eminent domain to generate more tax revenue, we have been working successfully to reform the law in this country, state-by-state. As late Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman said, “The Institute for Justice—which is a remarkably good organization—has been promoting [the backlash against the Supreme Court’s decision] and they’ve been doing a very good job. It may well be that you’ll end up with a stronger support for property than you originally had.”
The Hands Off My Home campaign was founded to do what the U.S. Supreme Court failed to do with its ruling in Kelo v. City of New London: protect individual property owners from the use of eminent domain for private-to-private takings. Using a multi-faceted strategy of legislative counseling, grassroots organization, and media relations, we have been working state-by-state to increase protections for property owners. Listed below are key outcomes since the Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling, followed by a list of contributions made by the Hands Off My Home campaign toward these ends.
Key Outcomes through March 12, 2008
1. Forty-two states have reformed their laws
Since the Kelo ruling, 42 states have passed new laws aimed at curbing the abuse of eminent domain for private use—11 in 2007 alone. Included in these reforms are six constitutional amendments (the strongest protection a state can give its citizens), three citizen initiatives, and 37 statutory reforms. About half of these measures provide strong protection against the abuse of eminent domain, and virtually all represent an improvement over the truly terrible eminent domain laws that were on the books before Kelo. For legislation enacted since Kelo, please click on the following link: http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=510&Itemid=107.
To see how your state compares with others, please view our Fifty State Report Card on eminent domain laws, available online at http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=113.
2. “Kelo” is a household word.
Although there was growing concern about eminent domain abuse and some awareness among the general public before the Kelo decision, now nearly every reasonably well-informed person in the country knows about the issue. Public opinion polling consistently shows a majority of Americans oppose using eminent domain for economic development. A recent poll, conducted in March 2007, surveyed 1,122 Ohio voters, 82 percent of whom opposed using eminent domain to take property for economic development. You can find the results of this and a sampling of other polls conducted since the Kelo decision here: http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=43&Itemid=143
3. The public backlash has led to a complete “zeitgeist” on the issue.
In the past, public officials, planners, and developers could keep condemnations for private gain under the radar and thus generally get away with the seizure of homes and small businesses. Now, however, as eminent domain supporter John Echeverria laments: “There are an awful lot of developers shying away because they don’t want to get involved in a time-consuming, political mess.” Property law expert Dwight Merriam notes: “The reaction to Kelo has chilled the will of government to use eminent domain for private development.” And even Susan Pruett, who works as general counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association, confessed, “I describe Kelo as the worst case we ever won.”
Role of The Hands Off My Home Campaign in achieving the above-listed outcomes:
1. Drafting and making available on our website model language for various types of reform. Included are constitutional amendments, statutory reforms, and local charter provisions and ordinances that state and local officials use to draft their own reform measures. In the summer of 2007, we published our 50 State Report Card, mentioned above, examining the reform laws and initiatives passed in 42 states since Kelo in light of our model language as well as the state of the law and prescription for change in the remaining eight states that have not yet passed reform.
2. Counseling policymakers and their staff. Members of Congress, legislators in nearly every state, and countless municipal officials contact us for advice and counsel as they consider which reforms to propose for their constituents and how best to word the language. Most recently, a New York senator who has been pushing eminent domain legislative reform for several years, sought out one of our pieces of strategic research on eminent domain, Victimizing the Vulnerable: The Demographics of Eminent Domain Abuse, a first-of-its-kind national study that systematically examined U.S. Census data to determine the demographic profile of people living in 184 neighborhoods where eminent domain is authorized for private redevelopment projects. The data show residents targeted for eminent domain are more likely to be minority, poorer, and less educated—compared not just to the general population, but to others in neighborhoods immediately surrounding theirs. This is precisely the kind of information that lawmakers should have at their disposal.
3. Providing testimony and other support for legislative committees. Since the Kelo decision, we have testified at least 48 times before legislative committees in 23 states and in Congress; submitted legislative statements in over a dozen states; and conducted legislative briefings in three states. As recently as December Castle Coalition Coordinator Christina Walsh testified before two subcommittees of the New York City Council against Columbia University’s expansion into West Harlem, a move which would require the use of eminent domain against local businesses.
4. Engaging property owners and citizen activists in enacting reform. The model language available on our website as well as media training contained in the “Eminent Domain Survival Guide” (see below) enabled several property owners across the country to testify publicly before committees considering reform at both the state and local levels. Citizen groups established with our help, such as the Save Ardmore Coalition in Pennsylvania, continue to be advocates for reform, even after defeating the project they were formed around. Others, like the citywide coalition New Yorkers Against Eminent Domain Abuse, were formed as a result of individuals from the same state meeting through the activist training conferences described below. These groups all have become part of a network that will lead to further success in neighboring communities.
5. Garnering media attention for legislative efforts, as they were being debated and after passage, as well as for individual communities fighting eminent domain abuse. Just since July 2006, the Hands Off My Home campaign, the Castle Coalition, and the Institute for Justice’s eminent domain efforts have been mentioned in more than 1,700 newspaper and magazine articles, and we have generated coverage by dozens of television and radio outlets throughout the country.
6. Publishing a comprehensive “Eminent Domain Survival Guide” and an award-winning companion activist-training DVD. As Cheektowaga homeowner Debbie Kubiak said, “Most impressive of all was the Eminent Domain Survival Guide, which has become a bible to me. Without this, we would have been completely lost during our nine-month fight to stop this madness.” The Survival Guide was available solely online until June 2006, at which time it was released as a fully illustrated booklet. A Spanish version of the “Eminent Domain Survival Guide” was made available online in August 2007 due to the increasing number of eminent domain victims for whom English is not their first language.
In June 2007, the “Not for Sale” DVD was released, which is a live-action companion to the Survival Guide featuring interviews with activists from across the country that have won their battles against eminent domain abuse. We produced the DVD completely in-house and are especially proud to have it honored with the prestigious “Davey Award,” an award given to small organizations that display “intelligence, out-of-the-box thinking and exceptional execution.”
You can find the online survival guide at http://www.castlecoalition.org/pdf/publications/survival-guide.pdf, and information about the DVD at http://www.notforsalemovie.com.
7. Hosting an award-winning website, www.castlecoalition.org, used by tens of thousands of property owners, legislators, reporters, academics, and policy analysts for up-to-the-minute, one-stop-shopping on eminent domain abuse nationwide. This January, we launched CastleWatch Daily, the official blog of the Castle Coalition. The purpose of this blog is to enable us to share as much as possible the information collected as parts of eminent domain media reports or for internal tracking purposes. While we update the Castle Coalition website every day, and the blog several times per week, this year we also significantly modified the website in order to make it even more accessible and informative.
8. Providing more than 20,000 yard signs, posters, stickers, brochures, and other publications to property owners and grassroots activists fighting eminent domain abuse.
9. Holding activist training conferences for property owners. Included were national conferences in the nation's capital in June 2006 and June 2007; regional training sessions in New Jersey, Arizona, Washington state, Florida, Missouri, California, and New York; and project-specific training sessions in Seattle, El Paso, Denver, Chicago, Wilmington, Del., Akron, Ohio, and Arlington Heights, Ill. At an activist workshop in Brooklyn in November, over 3 dozen people attended who were able to put their training to use by tackling tough New York City-specific issues and form a solid foundation for the citywide coalition, New Yorkers Against Eminent Domain Abuse—a citizen group first established after the Castle Coalition’s national conference last year.
Activists who participate in these conferences share the tactics and lessons learned with others in their community, thereby increasing exponentially the impact of this effort. Since the Kelo decision, we have trained individuals representing over 50 abuse situations across the country. So far, 16 of these communities (eight in the past year alone) have defeated the proposed projects, ranging from metropolitan areas like Seattle to small towns like Ozark, Mo. You can find a full list of successes that have resulted from our involvement here: http://www.castlecoalition.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=33&Itemid=107
10. Producing social science research and reports to provide substantive support to our arguments. Throughout the public backlash to the Kelo ruling, those who favor eminent domain for private development predicted—and continue to predict—dire consequences from reform for state and local economies: fewer jobs, less development, and lower tax revenues. We put that hypothesis to the test in Doomsday? No Way: Economic Trends & Post-Kelo Eminent Domain Reform, which was released in early 2008. The study found no justification for the claims, instead finding that not only are state trends in all three economic indicators essentially the same before and after reform, but even states with the strongest reforms saw no ill economic effect compared to states that failed to enact reform.
Additional examples from the past year include Victimizing the Vulnerable and a complementary paper that examines the effects of eminent domain abuse on the African American community. You can find the studies at http://www.ij.org/pdf_folder/other_pubs/Victimizing_the_Vulnerable.pdf,
Members of the Save Ardmore Coalition testify in Philadelphia on the need for eminent domain reform.
INVESTIGATING CAUSES THAT DESTROY OR IMPAIR THE FREE-MARKET SYSTEM
America’s Founders viewed the right to own and use one’s property as an underpinning of the new republic. Indeed, they viewed the right to property as essential to the protection of all other rights. Owning property is at the heart of our free-enterprise system. At IJ, we have seen the horrible intersect between our economic liberty and property rights mission areas. As our past client Randy Bailey found out, a thriving business can be threatened when a city decides to abuse its powers of eminent domain in such a way that favors one business over another. A judicial standard that allows the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one individual to another is a grave threat to fundamental freedoms, but by turning the tide against the use of eminent domain for private gain, we have put America’s free-market system in a much better position to flourish as the Founders intended.
EXPLORE AND DEVELOP MARKET-BASED SOLUTIONS
Part of our work combating eminent domain abuse is to make known to elected officials, planners, and the public at large market-oriented alternatives to economic development. One example is our recent report written by the mayor of Anaheim, Calif., showing how the city developed its entire stadium neighborhood without ever using its power of eminent domain. Since its publication, we have sent the paper to each city that has removed the option of eminent domain from its redevelopment plans. The paper can be found at http://www.castlecoalition.org/publications/Perspectives-Pringle/index.html.
As we mentioned above, our Doomsday study, released in January, declared that contrary to the arguments of greedy bureaucrats and developers, no ill economic effect results from limited use of eminent domain powers. We used this study to provide the basis of a Wall Street Journal editorial and op-eds written by IJ’s head of strategic research Dr. Carpenter and John Ross, our research associate, which were published in the New York Sun, the Orange County Register and the Baltimore Examiner. Not only will Doomsday become part of our litigation strategy in our eminent domain abuse cases, but it is already being disseminated by the Castle Coalition.
When the Supreme Court said in Kelo that the federal Constitution does not provide individual property owners with protection against eminent domain abuse, it put every American home and small business owner at risk of losing his property. Any home can be replaced by a larger one and any small business could generate more tax revenue as a big box store. Indeed, as we document in our report, “Opening the Floodgates: Eminent Domain Abuse in the Post-Kelo World” (located at http://www.castlecoalition.org/pdf/publications/floodgates-intro.pdf), in the 12 months after the Kelo decision, local governments condemned or threatened at least 5,783 homes, businesses, churches, and other properties with eminent domain so that they could be transferred to another private party. Contrary to what proponents of using eminent domain for private development suggest, this is not a problem whose scope is limited.
But the Justices also said in the Kelo ruling that nothing prevents states from offering their citizens greater protection. And that’s where the Hands Off My Home campaign comes in: beginning just days after the Court’s ruling, and continuing until the Court revisits the issue and rules in favor of small property owners, the Hands Off My Home campaign is working state-by-state to put in place protections against the use of eminent domain for private development. So far, 42 states have enacted some type of reform. Yet, even as these results confirm that the popular backlash against Kelo remains strong, efforts already are underway in several states to undermine the reforms. In the coming year, we will build on the best practices learned from more than a decade of fighting eminent domain abuse to (a) help threatened property owners hold on to the homes and businesses that are rightfully theirs and (b) support activists nationwide who are urging substantive change to state and local eminent domain laws.
We publicize the results and products of the Hands Off My Home campaign through e-mail and fax reports to the media, policy organizations, academics, and our donors. We also provide complete access to all our publications and findings through our websites, www.castlecoalition.org and www.ij.org.
Project Link www.castlecoalition.org
(Check sent: 6/25/2007)