Eminent Domain

Atlantic City Wants to Bulldoze a Home to Benefit a Casino

Eminent domain abuse returns to the Atlantic City boardwalk.


In 1994 a New Jersey state agency known as the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) tried to seize the home of an elderly widow named Vera Coking, who lived just off of Atlantic City's famous beachfront boardwalk. In place of Coking's modest residence, state officials envisioned a new limousine parking lot for the neighboring Trump Plaza, the high-rise hotel and casino owned and operated by real estate tycoon Donald Trump.

Thankfully, this preposterous attempt to wield eminent domain on Trump's behalf was struck down in court. "What has occurred here is analogous to giving Trump a blank check with respect to future development on the property for casino hotel purposes," declared the Superior Court of New Jersey in a sharp ruling against the CRDA. Coking remained in her home.

Flash forward two decades, and the CRDA is back to its old dirty tricks. Today the Superior Court of New Jersey is hearing arguments in the case of Casino Reinvestment Development Authority v. Birnbaum. Once again, the state agency is trying to use eminent domain on behalf of a politically connected Atlantic City casino.

The present controversy arose in 2012 when Atlantic City officials announced a "South Inlet Mixed Use Development Project" designed to "complement the new Revel Casino and assist with the demands created by the resort." Although the specifics of the project remain vague—in fact, the state has yet to release any documents detailing all of the project's particulars—the CRDA has launched an aggressive campaign to snatch up various parcel of land. In February 2014, that land grab reached Charles Birnbaum, whose family has owned a home near the Atlantic City boardwalk since 1969. According to the CRDA, Birnbaum's family home must now be razed "for public use in connection with the South Inlet Mixed Use Development Project."

In response, Birnbaum joined forces with the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm that previously represented Vera Coking in her winning battle against the same state agency. "The so-called Project consists entirely of high-blown rhetoric and a handful of 'conceptual' drawings provided by the Revel Casino," Birnbaum and his lawyers told the court. "This project fails to satisfy any of the requirements that would allow CRDA to take the Birnbaum Family Home."

To be sure, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a lax approach towards eminent domain abuse in recent years, most notably in its 2005 decision allowing New London, Connecticut, to seize multiple homes and businesses on behalf of a redevelopment project designed to eliminate a working-class neighborhood and replace it with various upscale amenities. According to the author of that opinion, retired Justice John Paul Stevens, it was an easy case for him to write because it "adhered to the doctrine of judicial restraint, which allows state legislatures broad latitude in making economic policy decisions in their respective jurisdictions."

Fortunately for Charles Birnbaum (and every other Garden State property owner), the New Jersey Supreme Court has refused to perform a similar act of judicial surrender under the state constitution. Indeed, in 2007 the state's high court slapped down one local government's attempted misuse of eminent domain because the New Jersey constitution forbids "government redevelopment of private property solely because the property is not used in an optimal manner."

That precedent is directly applicable here. The Birnbaum family home is neither blighted nor in need of any so-called urban renewal. Yet the government wants to bulldoze this well-tended property in service of a shady real estate deal whose only clear beneficiary is a well-heeled casino—the very sort of private enterprise whose corporate welfare should be cut to the bone, not beefed up at the expense of other people's constitutional rights. Once again, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority has emerged as a menace to property owners and an embarrassment to the rule of law. This eminent domain boondoggle deserves to be laughed out of court.

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    1. So how is that Pfizer property in New London purposing out?

      Thanks, Supreme Court!

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  1. Commerce Clause, necessary and proper, Executive Privilege, because FUCK YOU, that’s why.

    The End

    of law

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    1. Can I open a Casino in my basement?

      How about if I say I am an Indian, feather not dot?

      1. The better question is how you can get the government to use eminent domain to allow you to open a casino in someone else’s basement.

    2. Finally, something I can use!

  3. If Birnbaum is an individual who has no problem with politicians using force, coercion or violence against others then I’m glad he is being subjected to the government he voted for and supported for all these years. If he espoused such policies, then i hope all who believe in liberty as defined enjoy watching them take away, and then tear down his house. Just as he said eff you to all walks if individuals for all these years, now he will finally get to enjoy the violent government he supported.

    If he really does support liberty, then I hope he keeps his property (actually the property he bought but rents from the govt through property taxes which is bs in itself and antithetical to liberty).

    1. You’ll find that thinking in this way is a one-way ticket to misanthropy.

      Treat this as a teachable moment for Birnbaum and the people who know him instead.

      After all nothing turns a man libertarian faster than seeing the forces of the state being turned against him. And we could really use more people.

      1. I don’t hate. Of course it is a teachable moment, but sadly many individuals must suffer for those who refuse to learn, or take forever to do so. Many folks advocate violence, that is until it hits home. No individual should suffer because “I didn’t know”. Yet some folks freak out with the notion of free individuals without a government. They call it chaotic, while ignoring the chaos right in front of them. Politicians came up with nifty new ways to enslave folks.

        If he advocated this nonsense for a long time, then he advocated robbing me. So until he apologizes, then fuck him and his house. That would be like Paul Krugman losing his house to eminent domain, and having his assets seized for no reason. Are we supposed to ignore all the damage he’s helped cause through his advocacy for theft and violence? Until he apologizes, and actually does something to promote real liberty, fuck him too.

        I don’t know if Mr. Birnbaum even felt this way. Maybe he was an ardent supporter of liberty. If so I hope he wins this fight, and continues discussing and promoting liberty to others.

    2. I like my schadenfreude without conditions attached. No pleasure here watching the state exercise theft. That being said, I understand the feeling, Vampire.

  4. I guess Mr. Birnbaum just couldn’t outbid the casino when it came to bribing Nucky Thompson.

  5. What the hell is a Casino Reinvestment Development Authority? Hmm…google search…website….

    Apparently it was created to “invest” funds that the city’s casinos agreed to pay in the 1970s when they were licensed to open. Apparently it’s 1.25% of gaming revenues. It started in the 1980s, so it’s been in operation for about 30 years.

    “Over the years, we have reinvested over $350 million in housing and neighborhood development. We have built over 1500 housing units and have transformed the Northeast Inlet section of the City.”

    Uh huh.

    1. “We have built over 1500 housing units and have transformed the Northeast Inlet section of the City.”

      Transformed it into what, exactly? Any Atlantic City residents care to chime in?

      1. It also doesn’t say how many housing units were torn down.

    2. So this is money just looking to make trouble, and will continue to do so as long as the legisl’n isn’t repealed. And since it was part of the deal, that’d probably mean outlawing gambling again in NJ.

    3. Sometimes houses are meant to be bulldozed. But the use of Imminent Domain has been abused in futures past.

  6. John Gotti would be so proud.

  7. Again, this is a blatant example of how government is bad and allows some people to “lawfully” loot other people. There are very few rational people that would agree with the government on this issue.

    However, those people that support government, mainly progressives, will view this and not say a word about it. Even if you think overall that govt is good, can’t you at least speak up when they do something bad?

    Can they just not admit when they’re wrong about something? Is it a team thing, and they just don’t want to lose? Seriously, someone help explain it to me…

    1. You sound intelligent enough to answer the question for yourself….but

      1. Do you kill your dog if she or he makes a puddle on the floor?

      2. Do you send your children to an orphanage if they go through stages in their lives when they are bad?

      3. Would you leave your spouse because you disagree with some of the things they do?

      4. If I come in your house (I know construction) and find 25 things wrong with it, does that mean your house is of poor quality? Would you get rid of it?

      5. If the weather is sometimes poor where you live, should you move and seek out a place where the weather is always perfect?

      My guess is that, in most cases, the answers are no.

      So to answer your specific question – it’s quite a far reaching “conclusion” to assume “they” (us, liberals) are wont to admit that government (and everyone else!) does a LOT of things badly, but unlike some of the folks here, we’re realists and instead ask either:

      1. Are there better ways in the world? Can I find models which look much better than the current USA in terms of government?

      2. Can I improve things? It’s unrealistic to think gubment is going away, but what can we do to make it even slightly better?

      I would – really honestly – ask you the opposite. Why is it that libertarians or others think that – for no reason other than they can find fault with something – that such means it should not be part of human endeavors?

  8. Ask me anything about Atlantic City….I’m a regular and semi-native (Brigantine, next door island, etc.).

    The basics…..
    AC was never anything except a way to make money. It never was a true community in any sense of the word, but rather developed solely to make a buck off (mostly) poor white immigrants who had one day off – and could take a train from Philly to AC and feel like royalty.

    It was/is always run by business folks – for maximum profit. Of course, gubment got involved at various times in an attempt to keep the mob out (when casinos passed) as well as to do some public works…

    NONE of the efforts, public or private, have worked to any degree. The only reason Casinos are still standing is that most bondholders were screwed (See: Donald Trump)….

    Step back even further – these are barrier islands and would not even exist as dry land if the Feds didn’t reclaim them and help with flood insurance, etc.

    In short, the only “libertarian” was to fix AC and/or any of the barrier islands would be to bulldoze them to the ground and offer homesteading (with no Fed backing or insurance) to the 1%.

    I’m not saying that’s a bad idea. Rather I’d be interested in what any of you thought a good idea is – for the big picture. As far as this one house, that’s not really the issue. The entire place is/was corrupt and bought/sold since 150+ years ago, so applying the same policies to it as you would to dry land which is capable of sustaining people may not apply.

    1. That’s a good point Craig. Obviously, there are things today that are very screwed up because of Crony Cap. or welfare or whatever (Detroit comes to mind).

      I wrestle with what the solution would be.

      1. Most capitalism is “crony”. I can’t see any other way….

        In AC, the first cronies were the RR’s and the Hotels. Then all the business guys – even those who ran small operations. Anything illegal was/is OK….because it brought people and $$$.

        But even all that didn’t work because there are consequences to not doing things right.

        As an example, the reason black folks exist in AC is for one reason – as servants to the white tourists. They were not allowed in the movie theaters, amusements, etc.

        Yet 10’s of thousands were “imported” to make the place work.

        So, as with other places, what happens when the town shuts down (white flight to Florida, Islands, etc. instead of close by)…???

        Simple – the place turns to a horrible slum because there was not a job in sight. No work=no economy.

        This is what happened from 1960 through about….well, even up to today, although the Casinos did bring a certain amount of unsustainable jobs and growth.

        Lots of money way made. But the taxpayers, the poor and the city itself didn’t see most of it. Most of it went to corporate profits, although the building trades did well when they had the first boom.

        There was a lot of talk about building it up to be “family friendly” in addition to the Casinos. They never did it. American (land rush) Capitalism usually doesn’t look that far ahead – why build amusements and stuff for kids when you can open up slot machines and make money instantly?

        1. So you’re saying all reform would do in a matter like this is to scrape off a surface of rot & reveal the rot under it? Rot all the way down?

          No wonder Uncle Eddie liked vacationing there. There always seemed to be something shady about him. But fun! (I miss him.)

        2. “American (land rush) Capitalism usually doesn’t look that far ahead”. Your complaint isn’t with “Capitalism”, it is with “American” governmental policy which violates the basic concept of “Capitalism” i.e. respect for private property. Bitching about an incidence of government overreach yet promoting it in other incidences indicates you have no moral basis for your beliefs. But that is the point, isn’t it? Good when it works in your favor, bad when it works against it.

          1. When AC was founded we had an incredibly small gubment. There was no income tax, etc.

            It didn’t help any.

            Human nature is a b-itch.
            America has always let organized crime flower…to whatever degree. More back then. So cartels, the gun, the fist, strongmen and $$$ always ruled the game.

            The last thing anyone thought about was having a balanced or sustainable community. “Let me get mine” has always been The Way.

            Private property? Who owns the barrier islands? The indians? Even they were smart enough not to actually camp there – they went in the morning to fish and left in the evening before sleeping.

  9. More reasons to own an AK-47 and a AR-15.

    Just fly the Garrison Flag and have a big banner with “Molon Labe” across the front of the house.

    Heck, those black tipped rounds may find some use yet!

  10. Sad to say I still live here. It’s a cesspool of liberals and corrupt thugs.

    There is no liberty they won’t abuse, nothing they won’t tax.

    Two toll roads and all bridges leaving the state aren’t even enough. They are thinking of adding tolls to four (4) more roads.

    I hate this state. 2.5 more years and I’m out.

    1. You live in NJ? Or AC?

      AC is a bad bad place. NJ is pretty bad also….although the Pinelands have their charms and some of the shore is OK….

      Liberals? That’s strange. Our city and county have been controlled by republicans just about forever. The state often is also – Christie Whitman, Chris Christie.

      It is very corrupt – but that’s mostly because it consists of a lot of money and a lot of people. More $$ to go around.

      Christie claims an “economic miracle” since he entered office – but maybe you should tell our friends here what happened (NJ bond ratings went down 5 times because he doesn’t have the money to cover his budgets)…..

      I don’t blame him. No one can fix NJ. But it’s a hoot that he thinks he can run on his success in economic terms….nothing good has happened since he’s been there – and unemployment hasn’t even come down like other states! Sad. I l got out and I’m very glad.

      1. NJ, but not AC. Only been there once.

        Don’t let the “R” fool you. Whitman and especially Christie were Big Government, Progressive “Lite”. Care more about their political career than helping NJ.

        1. “Care more about their political career than helping NJ.”

          That would be true of 100% of those in power – not a “progressive” tendency in the least.

          Heck, look at the primary last night! All the old school republicans won the day…same old, same old.

          As they say, when in Rome….if we had the further right radical libertarian as Gov. of NJ, they would not be able to fix a thing. They’d probably actually mess it up more.

          You have to deal with the hands you are dealt. The libertarian paradise is going to have to be on newly discovered lands somewhere….

        2. Hopefully you are not still in NJ because of a job or to make a living.

          Because, if you are, that means free markets are very flawed. Why should the system pay you more for doing something horrible?


          Of course, this is said partially in jest, but also as an example the the libertarian perfection is hard to achieve in the real world. Markets often force us to make compromises in terms of our quality of life….to pay the capitalist piper.

          You should move up here to liberal land. At least you’d get health insurance for a reasonable price (or free, if you decide to be a starving artist, etc.)…

          1. CIM: if we had the further right radical libertarian as Gov. of NJ, they would not be able to fix a thing.

            ME: “radical libertarian”. I’m not a repub, nor libertarian. Just what is a radical libertarian? From what I’ve researched about libertarianism, their core beliefs are not radical at all. Personal liberty. Non-agression. Sound pretty tame to me.

            CIM: They’d probably actually mess it up more.

            ME: If we ONLY had a libertarian governor, I’d agree. Nothing would change. I’d like to give them entire state government for a decade. I believe things would improve. Bit neither of us can prove our opinion. Only that the current makeup of NJ government is making things worse.

            CIM: The libertarian paradise is going to have to be on newly discovered lands somewhere….

            ME: Why? Liberals have been chipping away at a pretty good system for decades in an attempt to make the US their idea of a “paradise on earth”. Why can’t libertarians do the same?

            CIM: Hopefully you are not still in NJ because of a job or to make a living.

            ME: Mostly family. But I’ll retire in a couple of years and make my primary residense somewhere else.

            CIM: Because, if you are, that means free markets are very flawed.

            ME: Free Market? In New Jersey? There is no free market in NJ. So how does all the taxes, regulations, fees, licenses it takes to start a business equate to a flawed free market? And how does my decision to stay for my own personal reasons equate to a flawed free market?

          2. CIM: Why should the system pay you more for doing something horrible?

            ME: I don’t understand that comment.

            CIM: … the libertarian perfection is hard to achieve in the real world.

            ME: And socialism perfection is so easily achievable?

            CIM: Markets often force us to make compromises in terms of our quality of life….to pay the capitalist piper.

            ME: Markets don’t force us to anything. We are the market. Each of us make our own decision to buy or not to buy. What to buy and how much we pay based on our needs and wants. Price vs quality vs availability, etc. I make the decision to stay here because right now, the benefits equal or outweigh the negatives. I’m not FORCED to stay.

            CIM: You should move up here to liberal land. At least you’d get health insurance for a reasonable

            ME: No thank you. I will find the state that best matches my requirements. Liberty, Climate, Cost of living, etc.

  11. 1) did someone put a gum to your head forcing you to buy the dog? Did you not know dogs pee, and you are to train them?

    2) hopefully your children are able to learn from their mistakes. But what if your children tied you up and beat the shit out if you for pointing out what they were doing wrong? What in the hell does this have to do with preventing politicians from a aggressing violently against others????

    3) hmmm, voluntary association with a spouse, and written contracts……you wife isn’t extorting you….so your point exactly is what?

    4) are you going to fine them, and eventually use violence against them if they don’t repair it? Again, what is your point?

    5). What if it is a flood or tornado prone area, are they going to rob others to subsidize their home insurance and the cost to rebuild it based upon their bad choices?

  12. To the rest of this nonsense. You are only “liberal” because you are shielded from the consequences from what you actually advocate. Your ideas were tried by folks like John Law (and many others) already, yet folks found this guy Keynes, who parroted and advocated the same crap Law did before him. Law was influential in ruining an economy and fled France to Italy in woman’s clothes. When you advocate socialism, you don’t have to sacrifice your house, or savings in order to start a new program, nor do you have to physically rob someone. Oh, but lets ignore the failure of socialism and its blatant inefficiency, and keep parroting this crap and violate everyone’s liberty because we can hide behind politicians who hide behind standing armies.

    That is why it is so hard for you to realize your immoral advocacy for what amounts to violence that is required for your ideas and govt in itself to survive. If you had to physically rob someone, how far do you think you’ll make it?

    1. Actually, my ideas have been tried by me – in business for myself since I’ve been 19 years old. Maybe a dozen businesses…over 4+ decades.

      They worked fine.

      They were also tried with dogs, my wife of 40+ years, kids and other real world examples.

      As a result, things are just fine (relatively, of course – I’m still going to eventually get sick and die, of course!)…..

      Violence? The last time I saw any was at the bus stop when I was 12…..swore off it about then.

      1. You are oblivious of the violence that is required to keep what is modern liberalism going. That is because you don’t face consequences for what you desire. That is why you continually go about advocating it.

        Your real world examples are voluntary, and with your businesses, you are engaging in mutual agreements with other individuals. You own the means of production, and are actually engaging in what is called capitalism. So you trying to tie that into government and modern liberalism (socialism, etc.) is nonsensical as neither are voluntary.

  13. “This eminent domain boondoggle deserves to be laughed out of court.”

    Laughed at? Hardly a laughing matter. Arguably, the rampant violation of property rights by the state through taxes, regulations and imminent domain is the single most important human rights issue of our time.

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