Eminent Domain – The Kelo Case

Now let’s take a look at
the Susette Kelo case. This case made it all the way
to the Supreme Court in 2005. It sparked a huge debate about the
importance of property rights. The case involves homeowner
Susette Kelo and her neighbors versus the city of New
London, Connecticut. When I first came here with the
realtor I walked in the front door- it was like I had
been here all of my life. It was just an overwhelming feeling
when I walked in this place. In 1998, the city condemned 115
properties in order to build a private health club and
office buildings to support the development of a local
pharmaceutical plant. 15 property owners did not want
to sell so the city used eminent domain to seize
their properties. There were…if I can count them,
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; there were 9 houses
spanning this street here. Everybody knew everybody, if
you went to work, the neighbors watched your kids and
that’s the way it was. In the spring of 1998, the City
of New London came out with a municipal development plan that
said that the homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood would
be taken by eminent domain. They thought that they could
place something here that would bring more taxes to the city. This was here, the
penny candy store. And the grinder shop,
this was the Chivals’s deli. When this first started there were 90
properties in this neighborhood. The first ones that sold
were the absentee landlords. And then after that they
went after the elderly. It was the day before
Thanksgiving that they came to my house with a sheriff. And they handed my mom the
condemnation papers – basically condemning the property. And this here is where
the Pascalini’s lived. Mrs. Pascalini was 100 years old when
they made her leave last summer. 100 years old. And after that
they came after us. We bought billboards, we wrote
letters to the editor, put ads in the paper, we went door to
door, we had petitions, we went to Hartford, we met with
historic people, we met with everybody trying to NOT stop
the development understand. We never wanted to stop it;
we just simply wanted to stay. He had an auto body shop; they
took that by eminent domain, they tore that down. So, not only has he lost his home,
he lost his business as well. We fought for 9 long years.
And unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against
us, which I was really shocked. They basically just stripped everybody’s
property rights away from them. Eminent domain is supposed to be
used your typical, you know… to build a school, a reservoir, a
police department, to widen the roads. But, not for
economic development. Now they’re saying they could
take your property… if someone can generate more
property taxes than you. Is that right? Where ever we go we would be
fortunate to (choking up), we would be fortunate to ever find
people like the people that were here in our lives again. Surely good people. With the whole country watching,
the Supreme Court made a very controversial decision. In a 5 to 4 split decision, the
Court upheld New London’s right to use eminent domain. Justice John Paul
Stevens wrote the decision. In it, he wrote: “The City has
carefully formulated an economic development plan that
it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the
community, including–but by no means limited to–new jobs and
increased tax revenue… Because that plan unquestionably serves
a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the public use
requirement of the Fifth Amendment”. But four out of the
nine judges disagreed. They said that if eminent domain
can be used for any public purpose, then all property is at
risk —especially property owned by poor people without
political influence. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is one of the
judges who disagreed with this decision. She wrote: “Under the banner
of economic development, all private property is now
vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private
owner, so long as it might be upgraded… 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.”

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