Too many mega-developers like Trump have achieved success by using and abusing the government’s ability to commandeer private property for purported “public use.” Invoking the Fifth Amendment takings clause, real-estate moguls, parking-garage builders, mall developers, and sports-palace architects have colluded with elected officials to pull off legalized theft in the name of reducing “blight.” Under eminent domain, the definition of “public purpose” has been stretched like Silly Putty to cover everything from roads and bridges to high-end retail stores, baseball stadiums, and casinos.
While casting himself as America’s new constitutional savior, Trump has shown reckless disregard for fundamental private-property rights. In the 1990s, he waged a notorious war on elderly homeowner Vera Coking, who owned a little home in Atlantic City that stood in the way of Trump’s manifest land development. The real-estate mogul was determined to expand his Trump Plaza and build a limousine parking lot — Coking’s private property be damned. The nonprofit Institute for Justice, which successfully saved Coking’s home, explained the confiscatory scheme: