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Fall 2009

The Kelo Curse

The 2005 landmark Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London case that allowed local government to seize private property for more lucrative development projects, caused outrage across the nation. The decision was highly criticized and created a grassroots uprising like no other, but almost 5 years later, whatever happened to the historic pink house owned by Susan Kelo?

Some call it “poetic justice” and others the “Kelo curse”, but the promise of 3,169 jobs and $1.2 million in local tax revenues to the City of New London ended up developing nothing more than an empty lot. While the developer claims to be a victim of the economy, the 90-acre multimillion dollar waterfront residential, hotel conference, and research and development project never materialized.

Susan Kelo’s pink house quickly became the poster child of eminent Susan Kelos' pink house in the City of New London taken by eminent domain actions.domain abuse in America, when she and six other homeowners fought the taking of their property by the city all the way to the Supreme Court. Though Kelo and her neighbors lost their homes to the city in the end, the case sparked eminent domain reform in nearly 40 states.

The 5-4 Supreme Court decision interpreted the “Takings Clause” as set forth in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S Constitution, which states, “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without compensation.” The decision narrowly upheld a lower courts decision that economic development could be interpreted as a “public purpose”.

Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, who has since retired from the Supreme Court, wrote this after the Kelo decision was announced, “Today the Court abandons this long held, basic limitation on governmental power. 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 – i.e. given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public – in the process.” She stated that the majority holding effectively deleted the words “for public use” from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. 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.”

While this landmark case was a huge blow to private property rights, the reform that has followed has brought much needed attention to our fundamental rights as private property owners. Throughout many states, local government is prohibited from taking private property unless it is for a true “public purpose”. While not all states have set up such guidelines to protect homes, businesses and farms equally, without the Kelo decision our fundamental rights, of which this country was founded on, would have continued to be exploited only to benefit those with power and control over American families. ■

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