December 10, 2008

Millionaire Texas Developer Tries to Bulldoze Free Speech

By Millionaire Texas Developer Tries to Bulldoze Free Speech

by Timothy Sandefur

Y'all remember the Freeport, Texas, eminent domain case? It was the subject of Carla Main's excellent book Bulldozed, which I reviewed here. It's a case in which the City of Freeport decided to condemn a family-owned business called Western Seafood, and give the land to a private developer to construct a shopping center. The Pacific Legal Foundation filed two briefs supporting the property rights of the Gore family, owners of Western Seafood. (You can read them here: 1, 2).

Now that it looks like the Gores will be allowed to keep their land, the Texas oil millionaire who owns the development company–a fellow by the name of H. Walker Royall–has filed a lawsuit against Carla Main, the author, against her publishing company, and even against well known law professor Richard Epstein, on the grounds that Bulldozed (which, again, is an outstanding book that everyone should read) libels him! He's suing Epstein because Epstein has a blurb on the back of the book recommending that people read it!

This is an absurd violation of freedom of expression. Mr. Royall is clearly a "public figure" under the Supreme Court's decisions in cases like Gertz v. Robert Welch and New York Times v. Sullivan, which means he can't use accusations of libel to shut down criticism of him. But I suppose if you have contempt for private property rights, it isn't hard to also have contempt for freedom of expression. Mr. Royall's lawsuit is an outrage: a clear violation of the First Amendment, and a frivolous abuse of the legal process.

Our friends at the Institute for Justice have taken on the defense of Ms. Main and Prof. Epstein, and you can learn more about the case here. As Dana Berliner says, "Eminent domain for private gain is the subject of nationwide public debate…. If Walker Royall didn't want anyone to talk about him or his development deals, he shouldn't have made a deal to develop a private marina using public money and someone else's land.  The Constitution protects people who talk about important issues like eminent domain abuse by governments and private developers. If developers don't want people writing about them, then they shouldn't be involved with government's abuse of eminent domain.”

What to read next