Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Give Susette Kelo Her Land Back


Jeff Benedict is a prominent reporter and author of Little Pink House, an excellent journalistic account of the events leading up to Kelo v. City of New London, the controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision in which the justices ruled that it is permissible for the government to take homes and other property in order to transfer it to new private owners for purposes of promoting "economic development." His book was recently made into a powerful movie about the case (which I reviewed here). In a recent op ed in The Day (the local paper in New London, the city where the Kelo takings occurred), Benedict proposes that New London return at least some of the land taken from Susette Kelo and her neighbors to the original owners:

...As Benedict points out, the development plan that led to the Kelo takings fell through, and the land remains essentially empty to this day. It would be wrong to say that the property is completely unused. As I described in The Grasping Hand, my own book about the case (which focuses more on the legal and policy issues than Benedict's), a colony of feral cats have taken up residence on the site. Some enterprising locals have built little cat shelters for them.

...In the course of conducting research for my book, I interviewed Susette Kelo and other homeowners displaced by the Kelo takings. Most were still very angry about their mistreatment by the City and the New London Development Corporation - not just because of the ultimate outcome of the case, but also because of the extensive harassment they were subjected to in order to get them to sell their land "voluntarily." The compensation they eventually received was not enough to offset suffering endured over a period of several years.

...While the Kelo takings were a tragedy for the City of New London and the displaced homeowners, the massive backlash generated by the Supreme Court decision did lead to valuable - even if incomplete - reforms in many states. It also broke the seeming consensus in favor of a broad view of "public use," under which most lawyers and judges believed the Constitution allows the government to take property for almost any reason it wants. Several state supreme courts have repudiated Kelo as a guide to the interpretation of their state constitutions' public use clauses, thereby providing stronger protection for property rights than currently mandated by the federal courts' interpretation of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court might well overrule or limit Kelo in a future decision.

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