The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
David Boaz of the Cato Institute has an excellent article summarizing Donald Trump's shameful history of promoting eminent domain abuse for the purpose of seizing property from homeowners and businesses who refuse to sell to him:
For more than 30 years Vera Coking lived in a three-story house just off the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Donald Trump built his 22-story Trump Plaza next door. In the mid-1990s Trump wanted to build a limousine parking lot for the hotel, so he bought several nearby properties. But three owners, including the by then elderly and widowed Ms Coking, refused to sell.
As his daughter Ivanka said in introducing him at his campaign announcement, Donald Trump doesn't take no for an answer.
Trump turned to a government agency—the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA)—to take Coking's property….
Peter Banin and his brother owned another building on the block. A few months after they paid $500,000 to purchase the building for a pawn shop, CRDA offered them $174,000 and told them to leave the property. A Russian immigrant, Banin said: "I knew they could do this in Russia, but not here. I would understand if they needed it for an airport runway, but for a casino?"
Ultimately, as Boaz notes, Trump and the CRDA lost in court in CRDA v. Banin, an early victory for the Institute for Justice—the public interest law firm that later litigated Kelo v. City of New London and other landmark property rights cases.
As Boaz notes, this was not the only time that Trump sought to use eminent domain to seize property from unwilling owners. In 1994, he also lobbied the city of Bridgeport to condemn five small businesses so he could build an office and entertainment complex that he absurdly claimed would turn Bridgeport into a "national tourist destination."
On this issue, unlike most others, Trump has been consistent over time. When the Supreme Court narrowly upheld "economic development" takings that transfer property to private parties in the 2005 Kelo case, the ruling was widely denounced on both left and right. But Trump defended it stating that "I happen to agree with it 100%. if you have a person living in an area that's not even necessarily a good area, and … government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and … create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good." The feral cats who currently occupy the condemned land probably agree. Trump did not merely claim that the decision was legally correct; he argued that it was "good" to give government the power to forcibly displace homeowners and small businesses and transfer their property to influential developers on the theory that doing so might promote "economic development."
Both the Kelo case and Trump's efforts to benefit from eminent domain exemplify a longstanding pattern under which that power is used to take land away from the political weak and transfer it to influential private interests. In the long run, as cities like Detroit have learned, such assaults on property rights undermine development far more than they promote it.
UPDATE: It's worth noting that, on this issue, Trump has demonstrated even less respect for property rights than fellow presidential candidate and self-proclaimed socialist Bernard Sanders. When the Kelo decision was issued, Sanders spoke out against it, noting "the result of this decision will be that working families and poor people will see their property turned over to corporate interests and wealthy developers." I discuss the widespread opposition to Kelo more fully in my recent book on the case and its aftermath.
UPDATE #2: I have made a few small additions to this post, to expand on some points.