PROPERTY RIGHTS FOUNDATION OF AMERICA, INC.
P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
Founded 1994

The right to own private property is a fundamental American freedom that
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.

 

Website: prfamerica.org
E-mail: prfa@prfamerica.org

August 31, 2004

Dear Friend:

Thank you for your belief in the importance of our fundamental right to own and use private property according to the fullest sense of the United States Constitution. Our many years of work together with people from across the country are finally coming together in an exciting sense, as rural and urban America begin to realize that they have a mutual need to defend private property rights.

This summer, The New York Times ran an almost full-size, two-page article sympathetically portraying the plight of urban property owners faced with the disruption to their lives and businesses in Westchester County because of eminent domain for private development and other ill-conceived government planning.

Over recent decades, neither the Times nor Westchester County, a populous, relatively liberal area bordering New York City, would have seemed to be likely sources of sympathy for the need to protect private property rights.

This mindset is changing, as government agencies condemn perfectly sound downtown properties in places like Port Chester and Yonkers in Westchester for urban redevelopment and economic improvement.

As PRFA has been pointing out, blight-related and other urban improvement-oriented condemnations have long outstripped reason, with eminent domain straying far from its acceptable, traditional purposes when the Constitution was framed.
Referring to New York's law, which has problems similar to those in a number of other states, the Times pointed out, \

"(A)dvocates argue that…vaguenesses in the eminent-domain law remain to be addressed.

"One of those is language letting government agencies and municipalities condemn property 'for a public use, benefit, or purpose.' Another is wording that allows for seizure of property if it is considered 'blighted.'

"The first phrase, argues Carol LaGrasse, president of the Property Rights Foundation of America, makes the law applicable not only to arguably necessary public construction like new highways but also to private land transfer in the name of economic revitalization."

In Connecticut, Susette Kelo and other owners of approximately 115 parcels in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London stand to lose their homes and businesses for a redevelopment plan created by a private, nonprofit development corporation. The development plan intends that a private for-profit developer will enter into a ninety-nine year lease for projects in part of the area, at a payment of one dollar annually. Some of the property owners refused to sell, and the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C., took up their cause. Connecticut law allows property owners to challenge only the compensation offered for their property, not to challenge the eminent domain action itself. However, the Institute went to court on the grounds that Connecticut's use of eminent domain is unconstitutional. On July 19, after losing their appeal of Kelo v. the City of New London in a sharply divided 4-3 ruling in Connecticut's highest court, the Institute petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a hearing.

This August, Institute Senior Counsel Dana Berliner asked rhetorically, "Does the U.S. Constitution allow the government to take property from one private party in order to give it to another private party because the new owner might produce more profit and more taxes for the City from the land?"

"The rights of all home and business owners hang in the balance," Ms. Berliner emphasized recently about the Kelo case.

On August 21, the Property Rights Foundation of America submitted a brief amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" brief, in support of the homeowners' petition to the Supreme Court.
The amicus curiae brief, for which H. Christopher Bartolomucci, Partner, Hogan and Hartson, L.L.P., Washington, D.C., is the counsel of record, states:

"PRFA has a particular interest in Kelo v. City of New London…, because this case raises a constitutional question of fundamental importance—namely, what limits does the Constitution impose when government decides to take property from one private party and transfer it to another private party for the stated purpose of stimulating economic development? As the sad facts of this case show, residents of the Fort Trumbull area of the City of New London stand to lose cherished family homes for the sake of projected job creation and tax revenues. PRFA believes that the City's condemnation actions are a misuse of its eminent domain power, particularly since the Fort Trumbull area is in no sense a slum or blighted area."

The amicus curiae brief traces historic attempts to use the eminent domain power to transfer property from one private property owner to another, beginning in 1798, when the idea was firmly rejected in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1829, Justice Story wrote in Wilkinson v. Leland:

"We know of no case, in which a legislative act to transfer the property of A. to B. without his consent, has ever been held a constitutional exercise of legislative power in any state of the union. On the contrary, it has been constantly resisted as inconsistent with just principles, by every judicial tribunal in which it has been attempted to be enforced."

The final argument in the PRFA brief is:

"Finally, this Court's cases and the history of the public use requirement cast doubt upon the government's ability to transfer property from one private party to another private party for the purpose of economic development."

As you can imagine, Michigan Supreme Court's reversal this summer of its 1981 Poletown ruling that had allowed condemnation for generalized economic development has elevated the already high profile of the nationwide battle over the new eminent domain epidemic.

Let's hope that in Kelo v. City of New London this controversy will reach the Supreme Court and culminate with a reversal of the tide of abuse where eminent domain has been used for private development.

As we move closer to PRFA's Eighth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights on October 23, you'll probably note that we continue to feature noted speakers addressing important current property rights issues that concern urban and rural America, ranging from eminent domain to eco-terrorism.

Again, thank you for the important commitment you have demonstrated to private property rights, making it possible for PRFA to reach the milestones announced in these letters.

I hope that at this time you'll find it possible to help us generously in our mission to convey and defend the importance of private property rights, the fundamental principle without which our way of life and freedom would be impossible. Your help is greatly needed.

With my very best regards,

Sincerely,

Carol W. LaGrasse
President

A copy of the latest annual financial report of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc. may be obtained from the organization or from the Office of the Attorney General, Charities Bureau, 120 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10271.

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