Free Minds & Free Markets

Donald Trump Trashes the Constitution, Endorses Eminent Domain Abuse

Trump's support for Kelo v. City of New London reveals his fundamentally unconstitutional support for eminent domain abuse.

Credit: Todd KraninCredit: Todd KraninEarlier this week Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told Fox News that he totally supports the Supreme Court's shameful 2005 eminent domain decision in Kelo v. City of New London. "I think eminent domain is wonderful," Trump declared.

It was not a particularly surprising comment. After all, as I noted here yesterday, Trump has a long record of seeking to personally profit from eminent domain abuse. One such incident occurred in 1994 when Trump joined forces with government officials in New Jersey in a legally unsuccessful attempt to kick an elderly widow out of her Atlantic City home in order to make room for a limousine parking for the nearby Trump Plaza hotel and casino.

Today the conservative site Breitbart published an article featuring Trump's response to his eminent domain critics (including me). "Trump and his critics have different views on what constitutes 'public use,'" Breitbart summarized.

No kidding. Trump's latest comments only provide further proof of his fundamentally unconstitutional support for eminent domain abuse. Here's why.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids the government from taking private property unless the taking is "for public use." That concept has traditionally been understood to apply only to a very narrow category of undeniable public projects, such as the building of roads or bridges.

But Trump believes the government should get to wield far more power than that. Trump believes it should count as a legitimate public use to build a limousine parking lot (for Trump) or "to build a factory that's going to have 5,000 jobs."

To be clear, that is precisely the same untrammeled and unconstitutional rationale adopted by the liberal Supreme Court majority in Kelo v. City of New London, one of the most appalling decisions of the modern era. In that case, government officials sought to tear down a working-class neighborhood because they wanted to give the land to private developers (working in cahoots with the powerful Pfizer corporation) for the express purpose of (hopefully) generating higher tax revenues sometime in the future. During the February 2005 oral arguments, the city of New London openly acknowledged this outlandish scheme.

Under your theory of the case, Justice Antonin Scalia asked the lawyer representing the city, "you could take [private property] from A and give it to B if B is richer, and would pay higher municipal taxes, couldn't you?"

"Yes, Your Honor," the lawyer replied.

"For example," interjected Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "Motel 6 and the city thinks, well, if we had a Ritz-Carlton, we would have higher taxes. Now, is that okay?"

"Yes, Your Honor, that would be okay," the city's lawyer promptly responded.

Three months later, the Court made the land grab official. As Justice O'Connor remarked in dissent, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the result of Kelo "is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property—and thereby effectively delete the words 'for public use' from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment."

Furthermore, not only was the Kelo decision an unconstitutional disaster, the Kelo "redevelopment" was a disaster too. As I note in my recent book Overruled:

Despite prevailing at the Supreme Court, the development project that was supposed to entice Pfizer and provide "appreciable benefits to the community" (in the approving words of Justice Stevens's majority opinion) was never built, and in November 2009 Pfizer announced that it was closing shop and pulling out of New London entirely. As for Fort Trumbull, the razed neighborhood was never redeveloped and continues to stand empty today. In fact, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011, New London officials encouraged city residents to use Fort Trumbull as a dump site for storm debris.

But that's not the worst of it. As Hartford Courant reporter Jeff Benedict revealed in September 2011, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard N. Palmer, one of the four justices who voted against the property owners and thus directly precipitated their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, personally apologized to Susette Kelo at a May 2010 event at the New Haven Lawn Club. "Justice Palmer turned to Susette, took her hand and offered a heartfelt apology," Benedict reported. "Tears trickled down her red cheeks. It was the first time in the 12-year saga that anyone had uttered the words 'I'm sorry.'"

This is what Trump's destructive and unaccountable vision of government power looks like in practice.

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  • Idle Hands||

    of course he does, because he is a complete dunce.

  • Idle Hands||

    and of course has probably used it to his advantage.

  • ||


  • Idle Hands||


  • wareagle||

    and plan to grow weed on it.

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||


  • Suicidy||

    Well, bring hookers, and wait till he crops out so you have some properly cured cannabis.

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    Relax, guy.

  • ||

    I'm not your guy, buddy!

  • Bob K||

    I'm not your buddy, friend.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Let's face it. Trump couldn't give a fuck less about the Constitution. In any context.

    That's why he'll make a great President.

  • Idle Hands||

    at least with trump a new batch of cronies will loot the country. That's all I got.

  • Antilles||

    The introduction of Property Tax took away the right of private citizens to own property. We're essentially renting land from the government, and like any landlord they reserve the right to kick us out at any time.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Sort of tangential: McCarthy drops out of speaker race

    Trump's thoughts:

    "Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
    Washington (D.C.) is such a mess - nothing works! I will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! It's not going to happen with anyone else."

  • Idle Hands||

    I have a feeling they are just doing it so Boehner can pass a continuing resolution and save the new speaker from the pitchforks and torches the base will inevitably pull out.

  • wareagle||

    let's see: Trump doesn't care about part of the 5th amendment; the left does not care about much of the 1st, all of the 2nd, and parts of a few others; and I'm sure we'll learn over time which parts other candidates find inconvenient. Net loser - liberty. But you already knew that.

  • Adans smith||

    And this is why the founders wrote the second amendment.

  • Hank Phillips||


  • cavalier973||

  • cavalier973||

    “Yes, CO2 has an effect, but it’s about a fifth or tenth of what the IPCC says it is. CO2 is not driving the climate; it caused less than 20 per cent of the global warming in the last few decades”.

  • Marshall Gill||

    Less than 20% of zero is a pretty small number.

  • LibertyNow||

    The fact that CO2 is vital to good crop growth escapes the notice of the climate liars. Our public fool system has been so stellar that, of course, everyone knows this.....

  • ||

    Yes, but he says the right things about immigrants, so I guess it's ok for (certain) libertarians to apologize for him.

  • Trump-o-Matic 5000||


  • DenverJ||

    Who? Just because some of us aren't overjoyed with the illegal alien situation in this country doesn't mean anybody thinks he's anything but an idiot.
    I really haven't seen a lot of libertarians backing him, certainly not in the comments on Reason.

  • Trump-o-Matic 5000||

    Corporate welfare asshole who admits to abusing government to enrich himself declares that he likes government policy that he can use to enrich himself. How is that news?

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||


  • jacob||

    Team Red's current lead for POTUS supports eminent domain? Horseshit. This is another cosmo-fag article!

  • Johnimo||

    Were Donald Trump to get the Republican nomination, a possibility which is highly unlikely, he would receive a very, very small turnout during the general election in November of 2016. Of course, with Hillary as an opponent, who knows …. ? One of them might win with the smallest popular vote (as a percentage of the total possible) ever recorded. That would be fitting!

  • retiredfire||

    Funny how so many, who are just thrilled with the SCOTUS gutting the Ninth, the Tenth, and finding never-intended reasoning from the 14th amendments, in declaring a new "right" to marriage and trying to, apparently successfully, create their own law to be imposed nationwide, are so dismissive of their decision in Kelo as to declare it "unconstitutional".
    Kelo is just as much "the law of the land" as is Obergfell.
    Get consistent, or get out.

  • Will4Freedom||

    A broken clock is right twice a day, but it's still broken.

    Are you saying that Libertarians should view the SCOTUS as "constantly" right or "constantly" wrong?

    I'm not sure what your saying.

  • pcrudy||

    What a joke of an article.

    The Kelo decision did exactly what we need and want from our government - force our representatives to make the laws and decide what is and is not a public use and not the S. Ct.

    If the S. Ct. had ruled the other way it would be just one more nail in the coffin - one more decision where 5 appointed and unaccountable people tell us what the law is. I suppose Reason is ecstatic over Roe vs. Wade or Kennedy's idiotic decision about same sex marriage, that took away our rights to decide such matters for ourselves?

    After the Kelo decision our representatives in States (not all) and the Federal Govt. took the matter up on debate and have issued laws and clarified what they felt eminent domain could and could not be used for.

    Any 'Reason' that's a bad thing for America?

  • Hank Phillips||

    For the life of me I cannot recall Reason spewing a tenth as many column-inches over Ross Perot inanities--or those of any of the other fake-third-alternatives. Trump is another DemoGOP Trojan Horse placed at the doorstep in a paper bag set on fire after the doorbell is pressed. The Nixon-funded moron media then jam the doorway vying to see who can be first to stomp in it. All other parties are completely ignored when the screams of "fire" change to "what's that smell?"

    The power of spoiler votes to repeal bad laws has clearly been grasped by the bad lawmakers. But what about Reason editors?

  • Rob Ives||

    I will never vote for Mr. Trump, but make no mistake, every Democrat candidate would favor Kelo.


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