Protecting private property in the Peach State

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Institute for Justice communications manager Dan King brings us an infuriating but important story out of the state of Georgia.

Property owners in the Peach State have announced that they’ve teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge a private railroad’s attempt to take their land. IJ will represent the landowners in a legal proceeding before the Georgia Public Service Commission against an attempt by Sandersville Railroad to use eminent domain to condemn and take their land for a private development.

Dan explains that “Sandersville Railroad is a powerful business with political connections. Meanwhile, the landowners in rural Sparta, Georgia are fighting to save properties that have been in their respective families for generations. The Garrett family, for example, has owned the land since the 1800s.”

The case of two couples – Blaine and Diane Smith and Marvin and Pat Smith – is especially compelling. Marvin and Blaine’s great grandmother was born a slave on the property, which was then a cotton plantation. In the 1920s, their grandfather and grandmother were able to obtain title to part of the land as their own. They farmed the land, and always told their children to hold onto it—and they have. The property has been in the Smith family ever since.

Dan also quotes Institute for Justice attorney Betsy Sanz, who said “It’s clear to anyone that Sandersville’s attempt to take land from the Garretts and Smiths serves no legitimate public interest. We look forward to standing up for these property owners in their fight against this unconstitutional land grab.”

We certainly wish them well, as we do all of IJ’s clients. Hopefully the media attention generated by the case itself will embarrass local officials in Georgia enough to right this wrong before a final verdict even comes down.

Many readers will remember IJ as the organization involved in the case of Susette Kelo, who fought eminent domain seizure of her home in New London, Connecticut. While the Supreme Court eventually decided that the city of New London’s taking was constitutional, public opinion against such seizures in the years after the decisions in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) led to dozens of states passing laws limiting or abolishing eminent domain powers across the country.

We also covered this topic on Episode 22 of the Free the Economy podcast (property rights segment starts at 7:29).