Fox News on Montgomery’s Eminent Domain Through the Back Door

In my capacity as chair of the Alabama State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights I am featured today in two Fox stories (print and television). Our committee has been investigating eminent domain as a civil rights issue.

The stories describe how “eminent domain through the back door” has become commonplace in Montgomery, the cradle of the modern civil rights movement. Under this system, 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, as the story on Jimmy McCall shows, at least some are in excellent repair.

Typically, under eminent domain through the back door, the city of Montgomery bills the owner for the cost of demolition and he or she is left with an essentially worthless property. The victims are often low-income blacks, many of whom live near or in Rosa Parks’s old neighborhood. According to the print version of the story,

Karen Jones testified before a hearing held by Beito’s advisory panel, charging that the city demolished her grandparents’ property without proper notice.

“When we got here, like I said, half the house — the back half of the house was demolished,” Jones said. “I said let me see your paperwork, I need to know what are you doing here, because the taxes are paid on this land, you’re trespassing. And they told me that I couldn’t be on the land while they are demolishing the house.”

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.

“It was my dream house and the day they tore it down my wife cried and my little girl cried.” McCall explained.

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.”

David Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute and editor of the Independent book, The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society (with Peter Gordon and Alexander Tabarrok).
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