Is Eminent Domain Abuse a Problem in Your Community?

Date: February 03, 2014

As you may recall, last year we asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case of Ilagan v. Ungacta. In that case, we argued that it was unconstitutional for the government to take a small business owner’s property for the purpose of transferring it to his neighbors—who were, incidentally, a politically connected family. That was part of our on-going fight to overturn Kelo v. New London, the case that opened the flood-gates for government to take private property for “economic redevelopment” projects benefiting private developers. Though the Supreme Court balked at the prospect of revisiting Kelo, we are still continuing our efforts to curb eminent domain abuse across the country.

To that end, we recently filed a brief in the New Jersey Supreme Court addressing one of the key issues in eminent domain cases—i.e. the question of when a property may be designated as “blighted.” This is an important question because most states require a “blight” designation before private property may be taken through eminent domain. For example, in New Jersey such a finding is constitutionally required. But the City of Hackensack is trying to take the constitutional teeth out of that requirement—arguing to that a property is “blighted” whenever a City Council says that it is. In other words, the City contends that there is no meaningful limitation on its ability to designate properties on the slate for condemnation.

The good news is that, last year a New Jersey Court of appeal handed-down a decision repudiating the City’s argument. And now, as the case goes to the State Supreme Court, NFIB Legal Center is defending the Court of Appeals decision, with renewed vigor. But, these sort of abuses happen throughout the country. In some communities, City Council’s have declared entire neighborhoods’ “blighted” with such blanket pronouncements that—if left unchallenged—will enable the authorities to take almost any property under the guise of economic redevelopment. As such, we remain committed to fighting these abuses and looking for opportunities to finally turn the tide in the fight for property rights.

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