Why Donald Trump is Wrong About Property Rights
Religion & Liberty Online

Why Donald Trump is Wrong About Property Rights

trump-towerThe duty to respect individual property rights has been a part of the law since the Decalogue included the commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” But for just as long, governments have included an exception for the state in the form of “eminent domain.”

The term eminent domain was taken from the legal treatise by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius in 1625, which used the term dominium eminens (Latin for supreme lordship) and described the power as follows:

… The property of subjects is under the eminent domain of the state, so that the state or he who acts for it may use and even alienate and destroy such property, not only in the case of extreme necessity, in which even private persons have a right over the property of others, but for ends of public utility, to which ends those who founded civil society must be supposed to have intended that private ends should give way. But it is to be added that when this is done the state is bound to make good the loss to those who lose their property.

For most of U.S. history, the “ends of public utility” meant the government could take property to build highways and railroads. But in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified private redevelopment plans as a permissible “public use” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

At the time, Acton president Rev. Robert Sirico said that, “In the Supreme Court’s “new” ownership society, the very safety and security of God-given, inalienable rights are threatened.” That has been the general position of most every conservative and libertarian since the unfortunate ruling was handed down. But there are some people who think taking private property and giving it to others for their private use is “wonderful.” People like Donald Trump.

Ellen Carmichael explains why Trump loves the Kelo decision and why he is wrong to support this misuse of government power:

Trump naturally supports Kelo because it empowers tycoons like him to railroad small property owners who stand in his way. In fact, he has often used eminent domain to his advantage in attempts to evict longtime homeowners in pursuit of his own commercial interests.

When Trump was building his now-bankrupt Atlantic City casino in 1998, he decided he needed a limousine parking lot (because only casinos that are not classy lack limousine parking). Unfortunately for him, a widow, Vera Coking, lived on the land he wanted to use. She raised her family in that three-story house — a home she loved because of its proximity to the beach.

At first, Trump’s developers offered her $1 million to vacate her property so they could tear the house down. She refused. Trump’s allies at the New Jersey casino reinvestment authority attempted to seize the property and give her just a fraction of what his developers offered. Coking did not back down.

“Everybody coming into Atlantic City sees that property,” Trump told ABC. “And it’s not fair to Atlantic City and the people. They’re staring at this terrible house instead of staring at beautiful fountains and beautiful other things that would be good.”

Eloquent as always, Mr. Trump.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).