George Will’s April 18, 2018, column is on the new movie, “The Little Pink House,” about the Kelo case, in which eminent domain was granted for commercial developers. Will characterizes it as “a bite-your-nails true-story thriller featuring heroes, villains and a history-making struggle over . . . the Constitution’s takings clause.” Those of us dealing with greedy pipeline developers know all about being on the receiving end of eminent domain lawsuits filed by for-profit companies arguing that their pipelines carrying fossil fuel are for the public good.
Will explains the background of the 1998 New London CT case, where a private development company wanted to entice big pharmaceutical company Pfizer to locate on land in a blue-collar residential neighborhood, and the city of New London allowed the development company “to wield the awesome, potentially life-shattering power of eminent domain if, as happened, it failed to persuade all the homeowners to sell for an upscale private development to ‘complement’ Pfizer’s facility. Some, led by Susette Kelo…, refused.”
Kelo vs City of New London, lost in the Connecticut Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision, then went on to the US Supreme Court, which, in a 5-4 decision, accepted the state court’s arguments, virtually erasing the Constitution’s circumscription of government’s eminent-domain power.
Will summarizes the Court’s action: “To seize Kelo’s pink house, New London did not assert blight. Instead, it argued that ‘public use’ is synonymous with ‘public benefit,’ and that the public would benefit more from Pfizer paying more taxes than would Kelo and her neighbors. During oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia distilled New London’s argument: ‘You can take from A to give to B if B pays more taxes.’ In a dissent joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Clarence Thomas and Scalia, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned that the decision’s consequences ‘will not be random’: Factions whose affluence makes them desirable taxpayers and whose political influence makes them politically potent will join governments in seizing the property of low-income citizens who are not as lucrative for local governments.”
The decision gave government officials the power to bulldoze a neighborhood for the benefit of a multibillion-dollar corporation. Which they did. BUT THEN – the project that prompted the lawsuit, for which people lost their homes, and for which the residential area was bulldozed, never happened.
Sound like a familiar strategy? You bet it does!
Read George Will’s full column here.
Watch the movie trailer here.