- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

Most people would be shocked to discover that governments across the nation are taking individuals' homes only to transfer that property to a favored business or neighbor. Or that businesses are often being condemned so another business can take their property and make a larger profit.
Yet in the last few years, governments across the country have taken private homes and businesses to replace them with other privately owned single businesses, malls, industrial developments and upscale housing.
In New London, Conn., a private organization has been given the government power to condemn more than a dozen properties, including the home of an 82-year-old grandmother for construction of an office park and other development to complement a nearby Pfizer research facility. Merriam, Kan,. condemned a car dealership so a higher-profit neighboring BMW dealership could expand. And in Riviera Beach, Fla., the city is moving forward with plans to force out more than 5,000 residents for privately owned commercial and industrial development.
These are a few of the situations described in a report issued today by the newly formed Castle Coalition, "Government Theft: The Top Ten Abuses of Eminent Domain, 1998-2002." Selected from more than 100 such abuses around the country, the report describes 10 of the most egregious examples of government taking homes or businesses from their rightful owners to transfer the land to a more politically or financially powerful private party.
Although both federal and state constitutions forbid takings for private use, government at all levels ignores this prohibition.
Court battles are long, arduous and often prohibitively expensive, particularly when the cost is borne by one or two property owners. As lawyers at a nonprofit organization, we cannot handle even a tenth of the abusive eminent domain cases that come to our attention. But local and national activism can dramatically change the landscape, scuttling attempts by government to help other private parties steal property for pet projects.
Over the past several years, we have seen rising popular indignation and resistance against this abuse of eminent domain. Owners and activists have become increasingly vocal and increasingly successful in their opposition.
Home and business owners in New Rochelle, N.Y., defeated a plan to replace their neighborhood with a new IKEA store. An organized community in Baltimore County held a voter referendum that overturned a plan to condemn a large area for commercial and industrial development.
We have seen eminent domain opponents try an enormous range of strategies. They've circulated petitions, sponsored successful voter referenda, picketed the Swedish Consulate, erected billboards, talked to their neighbors, and talked to people they never in a million years thought they'd find common ground with.
Across the country, there were isolated pockets of dedicated activists fighting to defeat plans to raze their homes and businesses for the benefit of private parties, but now they are uniting. The new network is called the Castle Coalition, because everyone's home, and everyone's property, is his castle a place where he should be safe and free from government overreaching.
Homeowners, civil rights activists and small business owners from 15 states united to trade strategies and learn how to effectively fight eminent domain abuse in their communities.
If an elderly widow's house in Des Plaines, Ill., can be condemned for a Walgreens, no one's home is safe. Under our Constitution, our property rights are not conditioned on the whim of those with financial and political influence. Nor should they be sacrificed just so municipalities can put more money in their coffers.
It's time for citizens to tell their state and local governments that enough is enough. The abuse of eminent domain to take property for other private parties must end. That's what the Castle Coalition intends to accomplish.

Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock are both senior attorneys at the Institute for Justice. They currently litigate cases challenging eminent domain abuses in Connecticut, Mississippi, and New York. For more information, visit www.castlecoalition.org or ww.ij.org.

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