Is post-Kelo eminent domain even more racist than its earlier incarnation?

Imagine some government entity leaving a note on your automobile which reads: “Your car is a piece of junk. If you don’t demolish it in 45 days, we are going junk it and then send you the bill.”

While this would truly suck, it could be much worse: They could be threatening to demolish your house, instead. And if you live in some of the impoverished areas of Montgomery, Alabama, this is not some hypothetical nightmare, but a very real violation of civil rights in the same neighborhood Rosa Parks once called home.

The Institute for Justice’s Christina Walsh describes the mechanics of these property rights violations in The Daily Caller:

The city decides it doesn’t like your property for one reason or another, so it declares it a “public nuisance.” It mails you a notice that you have 45 days to demolish your property, at your expense, or the city will do it for you (and, of course, bill you).

Your tab with the city will constitute a lien on your property, and if you don’t pay it within 30 days (or pay your installments on time; if you owe over $10,000, you can work out a deal to pay back the city for destroying your home over a period of time, with interest), the city can sell your now-vacant land to the highest bidder.

Alabama law empowers municipalities to do just this. Officials can demolish structures that they determine, “due to poor design, obsolescence, or neglect, have become unsafe to the extent of becoming public nuisances…and [are] causing or may cause a blight or blighting influence on the city and the neighborhoods in which [they are] located.” Keep in mind, so-called standards like “obsolescence” are so vague they can mean anything, so even a well-maintained home that government officials don’t like the look of can be fed to the bulldozers.

“The city is intimidating people,” community activist Karen Jones told ABC News. “They don’t try to give people due process of setting up fines or even putting up a fluorescent poster in the front yard saying, ‘We’re going to demolish your house.'”

It comes as no surprise that the local media hasn’t been all over this issue, leaving national media like The Daily Caller, Fox News, Reason Magazine and ABC News to pick up the story. (I did notify a reporter from the dominant local newspaper tonight, so we will see if they pick it up). Fox has some great photos of the area, BTW. The sort-of-local Birmingham Fox television station ran a pretty good two-minute segment on the topic, as you can see in the YouTube below:

“Property rights are a bulwark of a free society and it saddens me that these rights are often ignored or even threatened by the very government that was created to protect them,” said my friend Shana Kluck while I was assisting with this issue last year. “Considering this is the state where the Civil Rights movement began, it’s time for Alabama to eradicate one of the last bastions of racial inequality and at the same time ensure the protection of property rights for all Alabamians.”

While Alabama has some of the toughest eminent domain laws on the books, this latest twist is far worse than in pre-Kelo days. With eminent domain, at least one receives some compensation for his or her property. With Montgomery’s blight ordinances, low-income property owners get stuck with the bill. It’s almost like lynching people and then sending their families invoices for the cost of the rope.

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. Is there a city contact that we can flood with phone calls and otherwise be a nuisance towards? I’m sure we could point the spotlight on an individual here.

  2. Those of us who have faced the threat of eminent domain know two things: It is a sobering experience and private property owners do not stand on a level playing field legally, politically or economically.

    The challenge is that more eminent domain is on its way through many back doors. In addition to economic development takings using the Kelo or “blight” approach, we are in the midst of natural resource development takings in pursuit of shale gas (as in Barnett shale, Marcellus shale, and more).

    The pursuit of these gas-rich shales brings with it more pipelines and more underground gas storage fields — and that (pipelines & storage fields) always means eminent domain. And in Pennsylvania, the gas industry and some legislators are talking up “forced pooling” which will permit gas companies to seize gas under your property, even if you refuse to sign a lease.

    Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent Institute for Justice of Kelo fame declines to intervene in energy/utility takings because, they told me, of the “public good” premise. Instead, the Institute should reconsider and offer support in this expanding “market” for eminent domain abuse.

    But property owners can fight back. Our two-year battle against Houston-based Spectra Energy which seized our property rights for an underground gas storage field led to the development of a website which has begun to attract whistle blowers inside the energy industry. If you want to learn from our experience and understand this type of eminent domain, refer to this post: Spectra Energy

    Or here:

    Private property rights are so fundamental that founding fathers such as Samuel Adams described it as an “essential” right and wrote, “that no man can justly take the property of another without his consent.”