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Eminent domain and private gain

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The increase in the use of eminent domain for private entities has created a groundswell of opposition from New York and Detroit to California.

The Institute for Justice's report documents dozens of instances of apparent abuse where states and local cities and towns put the interests of individual developers over longtime residents. For instance:

• In Atlantic City, an entire black middle-class neighborhood was condemned and destroyed to make way for a tunnel to a new casino.

• Bremerton, Washington removed a woman in her 80s from her home of 55 years for the claimed purpose of expanding a sewer plant, but gave her former home to an auto dealership.

• West Palm Beach County in Florida condemned a family's home so that the manager of a planned new golf course could live in it.

Many individuals are fighting the practice and the courts, which used to routinely rubber stamp local condemnations, are responding.

In 40 percent of the challenges to eminent domain brought between 1998 and 2002, courts sided with the original landowners. Six state legislatures have passed bills increasing protections for people threatened with eminent domain. Eleven others are considering such bills, including New York.

The practice of eminent domain has been abused throughout US history. When the railroads and many of the nation's highways were built, landowners were often told their properties were condemned, given a dollar and told to go to court if they wanted their "just compensation." But even using such high-handed tactics, most eminent-domain condemnations were used for clearly delineated public purposes.

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