Document Type

Congressional Testimony

Publication Date



This paper is a transcript of testimony by Professor J. Peter Byrne before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission on August 12, 2011.

This hearing addresses claims that the use of eminent domain for economic development unfairly and disproportionately harms racial and ethnic minorities. These claims draw on the history of urban renewal prior to the 1960’s, when many African Americans and others were displaced by publicly funded projects that bulldozed their homes in largely failed attempts to modernize cities. Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Kelo v. City of New London further argued that the use of eminent domain for economic redevelopment would inevitably harm minorities and the poor.

Such concerns in our time are seriously misplaced. Redevelopment projects using eminent domain continue to be an invaluable tool for maintaining the economic competitiveness and livability of urban areas where property ownership is fragmented and where minorities live in large numbers. The discriminatory elements of older urban renewal reflect the racism generally prevalent in political life in the 1940’s and 50’s, and have been largely eliminated by the growth of political power by African Americans and other urban minorities, as well as the changed fiscal relations between the federal and local governments, the effect of which has been to give greater control over redevelopment projects to local political leaders. Use of eminent domain, rarely now applied to residences, today requires political consent and community buy-in.

Publication Citation

Eminent Domain and Racial Discrimination: A Bogus Equation: Hearing Before the U.S. Comm’n on Civil Rights, Aug. 12, 2011 (Statement of J. Peter Byrne)