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Eminent Domain abuse in NY and property rights

June 26, 2010

A NY Court of Appeals ruled eminent domain can be used supporting Columbia University’s expansion into West Harlem. (NYT/Columbia Spectator)

KELO: Five Years Later

by Bob Ewing

The Little Pink House that changed America still stands strong.

Five years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued what would soon become one of the most despised decisions in its history.  In a controversial 5-4 opinion, the Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that governments could take your home—or business, farm or church—and hand it over to another private individual, provided the new owner promised to generate more tax revenue with your property.

The Institute for Justice, the libertarian public interest law firm that litigated Kelo and cases like it around the country, just released this video announcing that, while they lost the Kelo battle, they are winning the eminent domain war:

Simply put, the backlash to Kelo has been unprecedented.  In the past five years:

  • 9 state high courts have limited eminent domain powers
  • 43 state legislatures have passed greater property rights protections
  • 44 eminent domain abuse projects have been defeated by grassroots activists
  • 88 percent of the public now believe that property rights are as important as free speech and freedom of religion

The legislative response was also historic.  43 states have enacted statutory reforms or passed constitutional amendments to guarantee greater property rights protection.  35 state reforms include prohibitions against taking property for economic development.  And 22 states made it much more difficult to bulldoze homes in the name of bogus blight. 

Americans of all political affiliations and backgrounds have joined together to voice their overwhelming opposition to eminent domain abuse.  A recent survey by the Associated Press showed that 75 percent oppose property being taken by government and handed over to private developers; 87 percent oppose eminent domain for redevelopment and 88 percent believe that property rights are just as important as free speech and freedom of religion.

Of course, IJ recognizes that the fight is not over.  Just yesterday, New York’s highest court paved the way for a massive eminent domain abuse project. For detailed look at all 50 states, see the Castle Coalition’s 50 State Report Card.  Here’s the report for New York:


Read: New York Chapter
Read: Entire Report

As a state that is among the leaders in eminent domain abuse, it is not surprising that New York trailed far behind the other states in its response to Kelo. The only bill that seemed to have any traction did little more than create another study committee, yet the New York State Legislature failed to even pass that.

The state did pass legislation specifically targeting a large electric-line project, as well as a private golf club on Long Island. However, there is no momentum toward comprehensive reform, so the Legislature continues to allow the government to take homes and small businesses for private gain.


New Report Documents Widespread Eminent Domain Abuse Across New York State


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