Nebraska Activist Leads Local Fight Against Eminent Domain Abuse

Nebraska Activist Leads Local Fight Against Eminent Domain Abuse

By Maureen Blum

Nebraska attorney, property rights activist and member of the Institute for Justice’s Human Action Network, Barbara Morley is a force to be reckoned with.

Barbara Morely, a member of IJ’s Human Action Network, has become an outspoken advocate for property rights in Nebraska. She is pictured here with her husband, Ed Patterson.

Starting more than a decade ago fighting eminent domain abuse to save her own property, Barbara has advocated legislative changes in the Nebraska state legislature, testified at numerous local community zoning meetings, drafted comments to Environmental Impact Statements and various regulations, attended countless neighborhood association meetings, run successfully for the Natural Resource District (NRD) board (a unique Nebraska governmental entity that has the power of eminent domain) and set out on a dedicated mission to raise awareness of the evils of eminent domain abuse.  What started as a personal mission to protect her own individual rights has become a passionate public crusade.

Although Barbara and her husband Ed Patterson lost their property to the City of Lincoln for “urban redevelopment,” this prompted Barbara to go to law school to defend her constitutional rights in the future.  In 1999, she attended the Institute for Justice’s Policy Activist Conference and afterward orchestrated a comprehensive strategy to stop eminent domain abuse in her state by coordinating litigation, community outreach and a public opinion campaign.

Barbara and her husband joined forces with various residents and property owners filing suit against the City of Lincoln to protect their property from being given to the University of Nebraska for future development or, as the university alleges, for an open waterway for flood control. Barbara’s “Pitch the Ditch” legal and public opinion campaigns spotlighted how certain legislative powers were illegally delegated to the Joint Antelope Valley Authority (JAVA) by the City of Lincoln, and that the approval of the authority must be placed on the ballot.  The NRD board voted to join JAVA in December, giving it all the powers of the separate entities to issue bonds and swap properties with private entities, thwarting votes on the project by Barbara and other newly elected NRD board members who took office in January.  The Federal Highway Administration has not yet approved the project, in part due to the efforts of Barbara and others to expose the abuse of eminent domain and other powers in divesting businesses and residents of their private property.

As the case continues in court, IJ will following Barbara’s quest and offer assistance whenever we can.

Maureen Blum is IJ’s director of outreach programs.


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