Civil Liberties

Just Compensation…for the Demolition Crew


Was it really just four months ago that I could write, "You don't see a lot of people trying to rally the troops by invoking racial quotas these days"? Now you hear race talk everywhere, on the right as well as the left, most of it aimed more at scoring partisan points than illuminating anything. So I'm glad to note some genuinely valuable work coming out of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights down in Alabama, where the libertarian historian David Beito has been serving as chair of the commision's state advisory committee.

The focus there is on what Beito calls "eminent domain through the back door," which has fallen especially heavily on low-income blacks. "Under this system," Beito writes, "Montgomery has demolished homes without the normal due process of conventional eminent domain–and often gives little notice. The city alleges that these homes are 'blighted' but…at least some are in excellent repair." Rather than providing the just compensation required under the Fifth Amendment, the city "bills the owner for the cost of demolition and he or she is left with an essentially worthless property."

Beito's full post is here, and a Fox story on the subject is here. From the latter:

Jimmy McCall and his attorney Norman Hurst were among more than 100 witnesses and property owners who testified before the same hearing. McCall says he was building a 5000 sq. ft. home out of salvaged and recycled wood. His property sits along a busy thoroughfare. McCall says many have asked him to sell his land but he is always refused….

McCall says he took the city to court to prevent demolition and won in both state and federal courts. McCall also got an injunction forcing the city off his property. Using the blight ordinance, McCall's property was eventually demolished and he was sent the bill.

"I never thought a municipality or any other government agents would go against a court order," McCall said. "I never thought they were that bold and arrogant and that they, you know, could just say away with you—we're gonna do what we want to do and they did it. You know they actually came out and did it."