Eminent Domain and Minority Rights:

The Orlando Sentinel, Kansas City Star and Birmingham News have just published my op ed on the impact of eminent domain on ethnic minorities (coauthored with historian David Beito, Chairman of the Alabama State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights). Here's an excerpt:

Few policies have done more to destroy community and opportunity for minorities than eminent domain. Some 3 to 4 million Americans, most of them ethnic minorities, have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of urban renewal takings since World War II....

On Tuesday, the Alabama Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a public forum at Birmingham’s historic Sixteenth Street Baptist church to address ongoing property seizures in the state....

Current eminent domain horror stories in the South and elsewhere are not hard to find....

Eminent domain has always had an outsized impact on the constitutional rights of minorities, but most of the public didn’t notice until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. In Kelo, the Court endorsed the power of a local government to forcibly transfer private property to commercial interests for the purpose of “economic development....”

Few protested the Kelo ruling more ardently than the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In an amicus brief filed in the case, it argued that “[t]he burden of eminent domain has and will continue to fall disproportionately upon racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and economically disadvantaged....”

Some earlier civil rights champions, by contrast, often ignored, or worse helped to undermine, the rights of property owners. Ironically, the same U.S. Supreme Court which handed down Brown v. Board in 1954 also issued Berman v. Parker, in which the Court allowed the District of Columbia to forcibly expel some 5,000 low-income African-Americans from their homes in order to facilitate “urban renewal.” It was Berman that enabled the massive urban renewal condemnations of later decades, which many critics dubbed “Negro removal” because they too tended to target African-Americans....

If takings end up becoming a key constitutional rights issue for minorities in the 21st century, it will be fitting that the crusade against them begins in Alabama.

Unlike in the 1950s and 60s, today the minority poor are targeted for condemnation less because of intentional racism than because of their political weakness. That, however, is little consolation to the victims.

The massive legislative response to Kelo has made important progress. But, as we note in the article, and I discuss in much greater detail in this paper, many of the new laws are likely to be ineffective. A great deal of work remains to be done before property rights - particularly those of the minority poor - get anything approaching adequate protection.