“A man’s home is his castle.”



Based on this centuries old honored principle, the Institute for Justice seeks to restore strict limits for when the government can use eminent domain.

  • We have filed 14 cases to stop the government from taking property, including the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London.

  • In 2015, a judge ruled that a New Jersey state agency would not be allowed to condemn the longtime family home of local piano tuner Charlie Birnbaum unless it could produce more evidence to justify the taking. The ruling saves the home from the wrecking ball, for now.

  • Our fight against eminent domain abuse has been profiled by Barron’s, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, 60 Minutes, 20/20 and many others.

Under the power of eminent domain, the government can take private property.

For years, the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and similar provisions in state constitutions greatly restricted this power. Under the Constitution, eminent domain must be for a “public use” and provide “just compensation” to the property owner.

Traditionally, these “public uses” have been understood as public projects such as schools, roads, infrastructure and public utilities. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote a blank check for local and state governments to abuse eminent domain in the now infamous Kelo v. New London decision.

IJ represented Susette Kelo and other homeowners in New London, Conn., to save their homes from being demolished. But in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court instead upheld the taking of their homes under the guise of “economic development.”

Our fight against the abuse of eminent domain, however, was far from over. Kelo v. New London quickly became one of the most reviled Supreme Court decisions and sparked a national firestorm.

Since that decision, 44 states have reformed their eminent domain laws. A dozen states have gone even further and amended their state constitutions to stop eminent domain for private gain. In nine states, courts either rejected Kelo or strengthened protections for property owners.

Much progress has been made, but we still must challenge eminent domain abuse in states that either refuse to change their laws or have weak reforms. We are also vigilant to watch the return of abusive condemnations.




The Institute for Justice aims to curtail, and ultimately, abolish civil forfeiture, one of the gravest abuses of power in the country today. Unlike criminal forfeiture which takes property from convicted criminals, under civil forfeiture, property owners do not have to be convicted of a crime, or even charged with one, to permanently lose their cash, cars, businesses or even their homes.

  • IJ recently released the second edition for our groundbreaking survey, Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture, which analyzed civil forfeiture laws in all 50 states and relating to the federal government. The report graded the states on how well they protect property owners: Only seven states and the District of Columbia received a “B” or better.

  • In 2016, we launched new lawsuits challenging civil forfeiture in Arizona, California, Indiana and New Mexico, and successfully won back cash that was wrongfully seized from a Burmese Christian rock band. Partly in response to IJ’s advocacy and litigation, the IRS also announced a new policy to return cash taken under structuring laws.

  • We have forced the IRS to return cash it unjustly seized from a grocery store owner in Michigan, a restaurant owner in Iowa, a distribution company on Long Island, N.Y., a bakery in Connecticut, a dairy farmer in Maryland, and two convenience store owners in North Carolina. Our litigation also saved a Massachusetts motel from forfeiture and shined a light on law enforcement slush funds in Georgia.

  • Since 2014, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed forfeiture reforms.

  • Our fight against civil forfeiture has been covered by The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

  • Since IJ launched its “End Forfeiture” initiative in 2014, more than 300 editorials from almost 125 separate media outlets have called to reform or outright abolish civil forfeiture.

Americans threatened with civil forfeiture face an appalling lack of due process that treats property owners worse than criminals:

Profit Incentive: In 43 states, police and prosecutors can keep anywhere from half to all of the proceeds they take in from civil forfeiture–a clear incentive to police for profit.

Equitable Sharing: Under a federal program called “equitable sharing,” local and state law enforcement can bypass state laws that limit civil forfeiture. By collaborating with a federal agency, they can move to forfeit property under federal law and take up to 80 percent of what the property is worth. Granting law enforcement a direct financial stake in forfeiture encourages profiteering and not the pursuit of justice.

Burden of Proof: Nearly all states and the federal government require far less evidence than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for criminal convictions.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: While many civil forfeiture laws do have a process for innocent owners to reclaim their property, all too often the burden of proof is on the owner–not the government. Therefore, under civil forfeiture, property owners have to prove their innocence and show that they were not aware of any criminal activity.

To roll back civil forfeiture, IJ has filed multiple lawsuits, written several publications scrutinizing the practice and led bipartisan efforts to enact legislative reforms. Through our efforts, we are determined to beat back civil forfeiture both in the court of law and the court of public opinion.




The right to own and use private property is a cornerstone of a free society. But rather than respect these rights, many local governments are continually crafting new ways to intrude into the homes and businesses of ordinary Americans. The Institute for Justice stands at the forefront to spot and counter these new threats to private property.

Rental Inspections

Under rental inspection programs found in many cities nationwide, government agents can rummage through a renter’s home without their consent or even any allegations that they’ve done something wrong.

Unlike a proper warrant based on probable cause and individualized suspicion, rental inspectors can instead obtain an “administrative” warrant to perform their searches, a warrant in name only. In other words, thanks to rental inspection programs, it’s easier for the government to snoop on law abiding citizens than the homes of suspected criminals.

Municipal Fines and Fees

Many cash strapped local governments are turning to code violations as way to raise revenue. Often, many local governments can keep the revenue from fines and fees which gives them a strong incentive to keep issuing tickets based on even the most petty violation. Rather than protecting and serving the public, municipal governments are treating their residents as little more than ATMs.


All Americans should have the right to live in peace and do what they please with their own property, provided that they do not infringe on the rights of others. Unfortunately, many zoning ordinances have become incredibly intrusive and capricious.

Severe restrictions and even outright bans block entrepreneurs from setting up home based businesses, homeowners who wish to rent out their property, and even gardeners who want to grow vegetables in their front yard.