Kelo Eminent Domain

Susette Kelo dreamed of owning a home that looked out over the water. She purchased her little pink house in 1997. The Dery family, up the street from Susette, had lived in Fort Trumbull since 1895. Matt’s mother was born in her house next door in 1918 and had never lived anywhere else. The vibrancy of this neighborhood reflected the American ideal of community and the dream of home ownership.

Tragically, the City of New London turned that dream into a nightmare.

In 1998, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer built a plant next to Fort Trumbull and the City determined that someone else could make better use of the land than the local residents. The City handed over its power of eminent domain—the ability to take private property for public use—to the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), a private body, to take the entire neighborhood for private development. When private bodies can use the government’s power of eminent domain to take private property with the vague claim of “economic development,” homeowners are in trouble.

The fight over Fort Trumbull eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. In one of the most controversial rulings in its history, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that economic development was a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The decision against the homeowners sparked a nation-wide backlash against eminent domain abuse. Eight state supreme courts and 43 state legislatures strengthened protections for property rights. Polls consistently show that Americans overwhelmingly support efforts to change the law to better protect home and small business owners. In the five years since the Kelo decision, activists have defeated 44 projects that tried to abuse eminent domain for private development.

Meanwhile, in New London, the Fort Trumbull project was a failure. After spending close to $80 million in taxpayer money, there has been no new construction and the neighborhood is now an empty field. In 2009, Pfizer announced that it was leaving New London, just as its tax breaks were set to expire.

“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.” —Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Source: Kelo Eminent Domain
© Institute for Justice 2017

Back to top