Turns Out Trump’s Not the Only NJ Casino Owner Who’s “a Loser”

In a previous post I linked to a article about the time Donald Trump tried and failed to take someone’s home and use it to augment his casino operation in New Jersey. The agency that was backing him in that attempted land grab was the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA). It turns out that, almost 20 years later, the CRDA and its casino operator cronies are still trying to take people’s homes. And, what’s more, it turns out that they’re still losing.

The Pacific Legal Foundation reports that:

The New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority … sought to take the Atlantic City family home of Charlie Birnbaum. Birnbaum’s family had owned the home for decades, but that didn’t matter to state bureaucrats. The CRDA admitted it wanted the property to benefit privately-owned casinos, saying that: “The state has recognized the economic engine is the casinos, and Atlantic City is vital to the success of the State of New Jersey. That’s the public purpose here.”

Two decades ago, the CRDA played this same game in Atlantic City and lost. In that case, the CRDA went after Vera Coking’s home to benefit Donald Trump and Trump Plaza casino. The New Jersey courts said no dice and told the CRDA that taking a person’s private property to benefit a privately-owned casino does not amount to taking property for public use.

Last year, despite that earlier loss (apparently, continuing to play a game after losing your shirt is not just a vice of casino customers), the state decided to try and take Birnbaum’s property. …

But last month, Birnbaum and his attorneys from the Institute for Justice [the same public interest law firm that represented Vera Coking] won a victory for all Americans. …

Judge Mendez held that the government’s “awesome power” to take private property must comply with the Constitution. He concluded that the CRDA’s nebulous idea to remake Atlantic City by taking Birnbaum’s property … did not amount to sufficient protection for the private property rights we all possess. …

The judge did not mention the infamous Kelo v. City of New London decision of the United States Supreme Court in 2005, but he could have. In that case, the city of New London, Connecticut, authorized the New London Development Corporation, a private body, to take an entire neighborhood for private development. Susette Kelo, who lived in that neighborhood, fought the taking of her family property all the way to the Supreme Court—and lost. The Court held that economic development amounted to a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment and that the government could transfer private property to another private property owner via its eminent domain power.

Ten years later, the Kelo neighborhood taken for “economic development” is, in fact, a barren field. No development ever took place—family homes lost for no reason. The plans the government had failed to ever materialize.

Sound familiar? It may have to Judge Mendez, who carefully deliberated on the Birnbaum case for nine months…. Ultimately, his ruling recognized that economic development can be a public use, according to the Supreme Court’s flawed Kelo decision. But, the government’s plan for economic use must actually appear likely to occur. Here, the government’s plan did not.

The Supreme Court got Kelo wrong. Kudos to Judge Mendez for getting this case right.

Jon Guze / Director of Legal Studies

Jon Guze is the Director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over twent...

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