The Kelo Decision.
A women named Suzette Kelo lived in the home she owned in New London, Connecticut. The City wanted to take her property, under Eminent Domain, and give it to another private entity. In this case a realty development firm. She lost her case before the Connecticut State Supreme Court, and then appealed to the US Supreme Court. You can find a fair and lengthy discussion of the details here: Kelo v. City of New London. Eventually, she also lost her case before the US Supreme Court, and was forced to move from her home.
So the question is what is Eminent Domain and why is it important? Eminent domain enters the US Constitution in the 5th Amendment: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Throughout our history, the Courts have interpreted this wording to mean that the government can only take private property for public use, and may only do so when it offers just compensation. Over time however, the courts have whittled away at the essence of Eminent Domain when they thought they could do so behind the veil of economic gains.
Here is Michigan we have seen the negative effects that result when government acts without respect to private property rights. Hamtramack, in the infamous Poletown disaster, was torn asunder when hundreds of businesses and homes were razed in order to build an auto plant that never came close to reaching the economic gains it promised. The private owner of the plant now, ironically, is owned by the taxpayers.
But what if the plant did finally create or even better the economic gains that it promised? Would this by itself be a justification for taking another’s property? We believe there is never justification for taking the private property of one individual and giving it to another private individual.
In the wake of Kelo the residents of Michigan spoke at the ballot box, and they spoke with great certainty. By a margin of 80 – 20 Michiganians passed Propostion 4 which prevents the taking of private property for the purpose of giving it to another private property.
After Kelo lost her home, the irony grew grotesque. First, the real estate development firm never bothered to finish the development and the land where Kelo’s home once stood is a vacant lot. But it gets worse. The prospective tenant of the redevelopment, the Pfizer corporation, which had secured a 10 tax abatement from the State of Connecticut, eventually abandoned the site altogether, when the abatement ran its course. So now, after throwing Kelo out, forcing others to sell and move and giving a 10 year tax abatement, there are still no tenants in the partially completed redevelopment.