Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review April 16, 2002 / 5 Iyar, 5762

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The forgotten human right | In Madison, Ill., the Gateway International Raceway wanted a parking lot. So it hired a quasi-government agency to seize the land. In an important victory for property owners everywhere, the Illinois Supreme Court has said no.

Four years ago, the Raceway decided that it needed more parking. So it went to the Southwestern Illinois Development Agency (SWIDA) which, in the name of "development," proposed taking the property of the next-door metal recycling facility. The U.S. Constitution requires that any taking be for a "public use," but here government sought to grab land at the behest of a private party. So SWIDA claimed the property seizure would ease traffic congestion, which was in the public interest.

By that standard, there is little that doesn't count. Taking my neighbor's land so I could build a bigger house would ease traffic congestion.

What made SWIDA's action particularly outrageous was that it charged a 6 percent commission for what it forthrightly termed "private condemnation." And Gateway went to SWIDA because, it admitted, even after SWIDA's cut, the condemned land was cheaper than building a multi-story garage on its own property. In short, both private company and government agency stole private land for profit.

The Washington-based Institute for Justice sued and the state supreme court has now held that the taking was primarily for Gateway's private benefit. Yet abusive eminent domain remains a problem in almost every state.

IJ, which handled National City Environmental's case, also successfully fought the New Jersey "development agency" which sought to seize the home of Vera Coking, an Atlantic City widow who had lived in her home for 37 years, to build a parking lot for Donald Trump's casino. There, too, the courts ultimately said no, explaining that any public benefit would be "overwhelmed by the private benefit."

Yet the Mississippi Development Authority still is attempting to take three homes as part of a project for a parking lot and access road for a Nissan auto plant. Says MDA executive director James Burns: "It's not that Nissan is going to leave if we don't get that land. What's important is the message it would send to other companies if we are unable to do what we said we would do."

The Mississippi Supreme Court has halted eminent domain proceedings to review the issue. The New London Development Corp., a private agency, is attempting to take seven homes in New London, Conn. Half of them would be torn down for parking lots for new office buildings; the rest have been condemned for "park support," which could be more parking or retail stores.

The corporation could build the same amount of office space, of which there is presently a glut, with the same amount of parking, without taking the homes. But the owners, one of whom has lived in her house 83 years, don't have the same clout as the Italian Dramatic Club, a social club which sits next to one of the condemned homes. It was exempted, since to take it, acknowledged one corporation employee, would be "politically sensitive."

Another pending IJ case finds Mesa, Ariz., attempting to seize a family-owned brake shop to give to a developer to construct an Ace Hardware store. Unfortunately, these are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The Castle Coalition, a national network of citizen activists, has published "Government Theft: The Top 10 Abuses of Eminent Domain" to highlight the worst cases of inappropriate government takings. The Terrible Ten include the attempt by Riviera Beach, Fla., to condemn 1,700 buildings and displace 5,000 residents to build a commercial and industrial development. Merriam, Kan., seized the property of a used-car dealership to sell the land to a neighboring BMW dealership so that it could expand. In New Cassel, N.Y., the North Hempstead Community Development Agency grabbed land from St. Luke's Pentecostal Church to use for private retail development. Hurst, Texas, seized 127 homes to allow construction of a mall.

Observes Dana Berliner, author of the report and a senior IJ attorney: "More than 100 cases have come to our attention, and we hear about new private condemnations every week, but many more go unreported or are settled by property owners who understandably cave in to the enormous threat of condemnation." Although many people believe that property rights belong to the rich, in all of these cases, property rights are protecting the poor and middle class. Property rights are a basic human right, the best defense for those with the least political influence.

After years of neglect, the courts are finally reinvigorating the Fifth Amendment's restrictions on eminent domain. Only continuing judicial vigilance will limit abusive government takings that occur every day.

JWR contributor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Comment by clicking here.


03/27/02: Cuba's struggle to be free
03/20/02: How to defeat Cuban communism
03/12/02: Junk science, redux
03/06/02: Axis of hubris
02/27/02: Washington-style campaign reform: incumbent protection
02/20/02: The grand Enron morality play
02/12/02: Rebuilding what?
02/05/02: Succumbing to the terrorist temptation
01/29/02: Democrats for what?
01/22/02: The Iraqi question
01/14/02: Profiling frequent flyers
01/08/02: Trade, not aid
01/02/02: Treason by any other name
12/26/01: Preserving freedom in an unfree world
12/17/01: Dealing with terrorism's aftermath
12/10/01: Emerging friendships?
12/04/01: Uncle Sam: Insurer of last resort
11/28/01: Expanding the circle of trade
11/20/01: Free to be stupid
11/13/01: The meaning of compassion
11/07/01: Patriotic scoundrels
10/30/01: The coming postal raid
10/16/01: First, do no harm
10/12/01: Good news from a suffering land
10/04/01: Defending whom?
09/25/01: The wrong solution to the wrong problem
09/21/01: The price of terrorism
08/28/01: Uncle Sam's retirement scam
08/21/01: Canberra's quaint naivete
08/14/01: Uncle Sam's false fuel economy
08/08/01: The Clinton administration in drag
07/31/01: The high cost of government
07/24/01: Kill the campaign reform illusion
07/17/01: Do as I say, not as I do
07/11/01: Lawyers at play
07/05/01: Western blundering, Macedonian disaster
06/26/01: How best to honor Bill Clinton?
06/19/01: A maturing Europe?
06/15/01: Tell Beijing to mind its own business
06/06/01: Ukraine's boiling cauldron
05/31/01: Protecting privacy from Uncle Sam
05/22/01: America's Balkan quagmire
05/09/01: The Taiwanese flash point
05/01/01: Globalization serves the world's poor
04/24/01: Who's cheating whom?
04/10/01: The NCAA scam
04/03/01: Balkan stupidities
03/27/01: McCain doesn't want a 'risk for our country'
03/20/01: Dubious Korean alliances
03/06/01: Coercive patriotism
02/27/01: Bombing without end
02/20/01: A dose of misplaced outrage
02/13/01: Psst: Tax cuts for taxpayers. Pass-it-on
02/06/01: Bridging the unbridgeable gap
01/23/01: Left-wing demagoguery
01/16/01: The drug war problem
01/10/01: Politics and trade
01/03/01: Hope for liberty?
12/27/00: The debris of war
12/19/00: What's the rule of law for?
12/15/00: Ending silicone breast implant saga
12/05/00: Election may yield victor, but there are no winners
11/21/00: A Bush presidential mandate?
11/07/00: Exprienced Gore? Yeah, right
11/01/00: Interventionist follies
10/17/00: America's brightening prospects in Ukraine
10/11/00: GOP budget scandals
10/03/00: How a pharmaceutical 'crisis' was created
09/27/00: Clinton's empathy has helped nobody
09/13/00: AlGore's risky budget policies
09/05/00: Military readiness and Korean commitments
08/29/00: Let sleeping hypocrites lie
08/21/00: Targeting a journalistic pariah
08/15/00: European garrison for Kosovo?
08/08/00: Journalistic cleansing at the Boston Globe
08/04/00: Junk science on trial
06/22/00: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty
06/15/00: The end of U.N. peacekeeping
06/07/00: The Clinton regulatory miasma
06/01/00: Administration stupidity, congressional cowardice
05/25/00: The silence of the international community
05/18/00: Protecting the next generation

05/11/00: Freer trade with China will advance human rights

05/04/00: How not to save the Constitution

04/28/00: American tripwire in Korea long ago disappeared: Why are we still involved?

04/18/00: Clinton administration believes the IRS is too gentle, wants more auditors

© 2002, Copley News Service