Donald Trump’s Achilles Heel: Eminent Domain Property Seizure

Donald Trump eminent domain Vera Coking
Written by Tom Ewing

Donald Trump is seriously wrapped up with Tea Partiers, but he departs from them on one major issue. He fully supports and has profited from eminent domain private property seizures while Conservatives traditionally stand against eminent domain use and abuse.

aNewDomain Commentary — Donald Trump’s presidential platform mirrors almost perfectly the opinions of the Tea Party movement. But there’s one major difference between Trump’s views and those of conservatives: Trump supports broad application of eminent domain. That’s the government’s power to seize private property and sell it to someone else against the will of the present owner.

Conservatives hate it. Trump loves it. Eminent domain property seizure with the help of local governments is a key tool Trump has used to create his vast property empire.

Donald Trump John McCain

Will conservative support flag once Trump’s stance on eminent domain is widely known? Or will Trump conceal or change his mind on the issue, the way he’s already done with universal health care and abortion? One thing is certain: Something’s got to give.

Below, find evidence of Trump’s unrestrained use of eminent domain property seizures. His support of the doctrine flies in the face of what many conservatives consider an inviolate right of private property owners.

Eminent Domain: Trump’s Not-So-Secret Weapon

In his campaign speeches, Trump has promised a national renewal and resurgence without providing many specifics on how he plans to do this. In his own real estate empire, it’s easy to see how: by convincing local governments to condemn private property. They take it away, then turn around and sell it to him.

The rebuilding of cities — aka urban or property “renewal” —  has historically involved and invoked the government’s power to take private property under the power of eminent domain.

Donald Trump eminent domain Vera Coking


But no one loves eminent domain property seizure more than Trump. He has made his billions in the property market and has encouraged local governments to use their powers of eminent domain to seize private property and re-sell it to other private entities who might better use the property.

Local Tea Party chapters have opposed eminent domain on numerous occasions. Tea Party chapters in Minnesota and elsewhere have opposed the use of eminent domain in land acquisition related to the proposed Keystone pipeline.

The U.S. Supreme Court 10 years ago in a controversial case (Kelo v. City of New London) simplified the process by which the government can condemn private property and re-sell it to another private party. In her dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued:

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.”

In the aftermath of the Kelo case, some 44 states have passed laws prohibiting or restraining the ability of governments to use eminent domain as a tool for re-selling property to other private parties.

The federal government has enacted no such restrictions.

Thus, a president could command the seizure of private property to be resold to private parties.

As president, Donald Trump could feasibly shake up who owns what in the U.S.

The Tea Party vs. Donald Trump: A Short History

Trump, below, describes the benefits of eminent domain in a case where he wanted Atlantic City to condemn an elderly widow’s home so that he could build a parking lot for limousines:

Source: Institute for Justice

The Massachusetts Tea Party posted this Fox News report about eminent domain abuse on its YouTube channel:

Source: Mass Tea Party

How Trump Woos The Tea Party Despite All This

Trump has engaged some of the country’s best conservative political operatives to gauge the pulse of the Tea Party rank and file. Trump and his people must surely know they are at odds with the Tea Party, or will be, over eminent domain.

It’s worth digging into Trump’s recent report of receipts and disbursements. Trump has paid just one polling firm, heartland-based Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates in Oklahoma City.

Trump also hired Alan Cobb of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the political consulting group the Koch brothers used to build the Tea Party.

Other Trump hires: Corey Lewandowski, formerly of AFP, as an advisor; field representatives in Iowa and New Hampshire; and Geechie Communications, a public relations firm owned by South Carolina Republican state Rep. James H. Merrill. Trump has also poached at least one former Romney campaign staffer.

So, it should come as no surprise that Trump has his fingers on the pulse of the Tea Party movement and its fellow travelers.

But Conservatives Oppose Unrestrained Use of Eminent Domain

Conservatives tend to hold property rights as sacrosanct. They don’t oppose all uses of eminent domain, but they require a high threshold for the government to seize private property. Conservatives have also traditionally opposed allowing the government to seize private property and then sell it to another private party.

This video from the Libertarian organization provides a traditional conservative explanation:


Why The Supreme Court’s Controversial Kelo Decision in 2005 Matters

In 2005, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Kelo v. City of New London (full opinion and oral argument transcript below) holding that the city of New London, Connecticut, could seize the homes of private citizens and then sell the property to another third party so long as the city had a reason to believe that the transaction would increase its tax base.

In Kelo, the city wanted to seize a group of private homes and then sell them to a private party that would then build higher-priced condominiums and other infrastructure. It was part of a bid to attract the multinational pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer to expand its facility in the city.

In the oral argument and in the Court’s opinion, conservative justices were extremely concerned about the abuse of traditional property rights. Justice Antonin Scalia believed that a ruling in favor of the city would destroy “the distinction between private use and public use.”

Now, 10 years after the Kelo decision, the project has fallen through on the seized Kelo family’s property. This is often the case in eminent domain cases where the government buys land in hopes of sale to a private entity. The land now has feral cats on it.

The desired Pfizer facility has been located elsewhere:

Source: Institute for Justice.

Eminent domain, especially after Kelo, is fraught with possibilities for abuse.

A few years ago, a New York appeals court shot down an attempt by Columbia University to use eminent domain to seize a 17-acre area in upper Manhattan. The court decried how the university and the state had gone about declaring a section of the city blighted in order to proceed with the use of eminent domain.

Here’s a longer discussion of the Kelo case from the Duke University Law School:

Source: Duke University Law School

At the moment it remains unclear whether Trump will make eminent domain a campaign issue. It’s also unclear whether he will be forced to explain whether his plans for national renewal involve the federal use of eminent domain.

Also unclear is the reaction of the Tea Party when they realize that the present Republican frontrunner disagrees with them so sharply on this issue.

Below you can read in full and in place the U.S. Supreme Court’s Opinion & Dissent documents in the Kelo decision.

Kelo v City of New London (US Supreme Court, 2005):

Here’s the transcript of the oral argument in the Kelo Decision.

04-108 (Kelo Oral Argument):

Check out Donald Trump’s report of receipts and disbursements, below.

201507159000184780-Donald Trump Disbursements

For aNewDomain, I’m Tom Ewing.

Cover image:, All Rights Reserved.