Cornerstone of Liberty

Property Rights in 21st Century America


Available formats

About the Book

The right to own and use private property is among the most essential human rights and the essential basis for economic growth. That’s why America’s Founders guaranteed it in the Constitution. Yet in today’s America, government tramples on this right in countless ways. Regulations forbid people to use their property as they wish, bureaucrats extort enormous fees from developers in exchange for building permits, and police departments snatch personal belongings on the suspicion that they were involved in crimes. In the case of Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court even declared that government may seize homes and businesses and transfer the land to private developers to build stores, restaurants, or hotels. That decision was met with a firestorm of criticism across the nation.

In this, the first book on property rights to be published since the Kelo decision, Timothy Sandefur surveys the landscape of private property in America’s third century. Beginning with the role property rights play in human nature, Sandefur describes how America’s Founders wrote a Constitution that would protect this right and details the gradual erosion that began with the Progressive Era’s abandonment of the principles of individual liberty. Sandefur tells the gripping stories of people who have found their property threatened: Frank Bugryn and his Connecticut Christmas-tree farm; Susette Kelo and the little dream house she renovated; Wilhelmina Dery and the house she was born in, 80 years before bureaucrats decided to take it; Dorothy English and the land she wanted to leave to her children; and Kenneth Healing and his 17-year legal battle for permission to build a home.

Thanks to the abuse of eminent domain and asset forfeiture laws, federal, state, and local governments have now come to see property rights as mere permissions, which can be revoked at any time in the name of the “greater good.” In this book, Sandefur explains what citizens can do to restore the Constitution’s protections for this “cornerstone of liberty.”

About the Author

Timothy Sandefur is a staff attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending property rights and economic liberty. Sandefur has written extensively on eminent domain, including articles for the Washington Times, National Review Online, and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. He lives in Rescue, California.

What Others Have Said

“Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner… . Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory… . The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”
—Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, dissenting in the Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London

“This timely and compelling book will greatly interest anyone seeking a better understanding of the state of property rights in America today. Concerned citizens and activists will find resources and inspiration in each chapter.”
—Chip Mellor, President, Institute for Justice

“Timothy Sandefur demonstrates why private property rights are central to a stable society and economic freedom, and what steps we can take to protect those rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision.”
—Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

“For many lawyers and economists, private property is an abstract institution justified for its long-term social advantages. But for Tim Sandefur, property lies at the heart of every individual’s personal identity and self-worth. Read his harrowing accounts of what happens when property rights are trampled here at home, and you see that the human dimension of property rights cannot be neglected in an ongoing debate that shapes the future well-being of our nation.”
—Richard Epstein, University of Chicago Law School

“In this timely volume Timothy Sandefur convincingly documents the importance of property rights to a free society, as well as the intellectual and political assaults on the rights of property owners starting in the Progressive Era. Sandefur offers constructive suggestions for legal changes that would enhance the rights of owners and restore the vision of the Framers that linked property with individual liberty. This book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on economic rights.”
—James W. Ely Jr., Vanderbilt University Law School

“Reading Tim Sandefur’s excellent new book helps highlight how the Kelo decision betrays, and arms those who continue to oppose, America’s efforts to erase racially imposed economic disparities within our society.”
— Dennis Hayes, General Counsel, NAACP, Baltimore, Maryland


Number of Pages: 
Publication Date: 
October 25, 2006