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Slinging any pebbles they can find at the larger-than-life Donald Trump, some Republicans are taking the real estate mogul to task over his support for a legal concept called eminent domain.
Eminent domain is the government’s power to seize private property in order to make way for public development projects, such as highways or schools. Some conservatives oppose eminent domain because they see it as a breach of property rights. A recent ad by Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group, attacks Trump for his support of the practice and a related 2005 Supreme Court decision.
"The Supreme Court’s Kelo decision gave the government massive new power to take private property and give it to corporations," the ad’s narrator says. "Conservatives have fought this disaster. What’s Donald Trump say about the decision?"
The narration cuts to audio of Trump giving an interview to Fox News. "I happen to agree with it 100 percent," Trump said.
The narration picks back up: "Trump supports eminent domain abuse because he can make millions while we lose our property rights."
Is Trump an eminent domain supporter, and does he agree with the Kelo vs. New London, Conn. decision that many conservatives deride?
Club for Growth described it as "eminent domain abuse" -- but whether the practice counts as abuse is a matter of opinion.
Trump and Kelo
The 2005 Kelo case concerned the government of New London, Conn., which wanted to seize several privately owned homes in order to open up the area for a major commercial development project intended to revitalize the struggling city. Several residents who didn’t want to lose their homes, including a nurse named Susette Kelo, sued and argued that this proposal went beyond the government’s eminent domain powers.
In a liberal majority 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found in New London’s favor. While eminent domain traditionally involves a proposal for a public -- as in government-run -- work, this decision said eminent domain could be used to make way for private commercial development. The idea was that the development qualified as a public use because it would bring jobs and tax revenues to a blighted area.
At the time, Trump said he agreed with the decision, even though it was controversial. We found the July 19, 2005, transcript of the interview quoted in Club for Growth’s ad. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation between Trump and Fox’s Neil Cavuto:
Cavuto: "What did you think of that decision? Was the court overdoing it with that decision?"
Trump: "Well, it's sort of not a good one for me to say, because I noticed every article written about it said, ‘Will Donald Trump take over your home?’ sort of using me as the example, Neil. And it's sort of -- it's an interesting situation to be in.
"But I happen to agree with it 100 percent, not that I would want to use it. But the fact is, if you have a person living in an area that's not even necessarily a good area, and government, whether it's local or whatever, government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and make an area that's not good into a good area, and move the person that's living there into a better place -- now, I know it might not be their choice -- but move the person to a better place and yet create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good."
As Trump acknowledges, he is somewhat of a poster boy for the pitfalls of eminent domain because of a high-profile case involving his property.
In the late 1990s, Trump wanted to build a limousine garage to service one of his casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., but several pieces of private property were in the way -- including a home owned by a woman named Vera Coking. When Coking refused to give her property up for Trump, New Jersey’s casino reinvestment authority tried to seize the house instead.
The dispute ended up in front of a New Jersey court, which ruled against Trump and the government. Media regularly cited the case as an example of failed eminent domain during coverage of the Kelo case a few years later.
So Trump supported eminent domain back in the mid 2000s, but what does he think of it now?
His current views
It appears Trump holds the same position as he did back then. On Oct. 6, 2015, Fox’s Bret Baier asked Trump, "What do you think of eminent domain?"
"I think eminent domain is wonderful," Trump responded, adding that as a builder, he knows "better than anybody" how frustrating it can be when you’re building a project, and one property holds out and refuses to sell.
"And you need a house in a certain location because you're going to build this massive development that's going to employ thousands of people. Or you're going to build a factory that without this little house, you can't build the factory," he said. "I think eminent domain is fine."
Baier pushed Trump specifically on whether he still supports the Kelo decision. Trump did not respond directly to that question, though he reinforced his support for eminent domain in general and acknowledged that his position differs from that of many conservatives.
"I think it's a great subject -- it's a very interesting subject," Trump said. "I fully understand the conservative approach, but I don't think it was explained to most conservatives."
Club for Growth said "Trump supports eminent domain" and the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision.
As recently as this week Trump has expressed support for eminent domain, and he has in the past said he agrees with the Kelo decision, which expanded the power, "100 percent."
We rate Club for Growth’s claim True.
Club for Growth, "One Hundred Percent," Sept. 15, 2015
Nexis, news transcript archive searches, conducted Oct. 7, 2015
New York Times, "Residents of New London Go to Court, Saying Project Puts Profit Before Homes," Dec. 21, 2000
New York Times, "For Homeowners, Frustration and Anger at Court Ruling," June 24, 2005
NPR, "Get Off My Lawn: Conservatives Critique Trump On Eminent Domain," Sept. 24, 2015
Washington Post, "Club for Growth: Trump’s economic policies put him in liberal mainstream," Sept. 22, 2015
Washington Post, "The story behind Kelo v. City of New London – how an obscure takings case got to the Supreme Court and shocked the nation," May 29, 2015
Columbia University, "What is Eminent Domain?" info sheet, accessed Oct. 7, 2015
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