Yesterday marked the first anniversary of arguments before the Supreme Court in Kelo vs. City of New London, the infamous decision that decision holding that local governments can seize people’s homes and businesses and hand them over to private developers to build office and condo complexes designed to generate bigger property-tax revenues than a private home or corner store.
The ruling generated so much outrage that even some Democrats (I’m thinking Howard Dean) got confused forgot that the 5-4 ruling was signed by the liberals on the high court, and that it was the conservatives (William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas) who signed onto a scathing opinion opposing it. That’s because liberals have a bottomless faith in government as the solver of all social ills.
The good news, as the Institute for Justice, which argued the case on behalf of private-property rights, informs us, is that the lead plaintiff, Susette Kelo–who with several of her neighbors fought an ambitious “urban revitalization” plan in New London, Conn., to raze their homes and replace them with offices and condos–is still living with her husband in the little pink period house that the New London city fathers deemed blighted. (You can click to a photo of Kelo’s house here and decide for yourself whether it deserved to be torn down.) Kelo has gone through quite a bit of harassment; after the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer, the city sent her a bill for more than $300,000 worth of “back rent,” having decided that since it had won in court, it already owned her home.
The rent claim seems to have gone away after newspapers got hold of the story. And now, just maybe, so will the plans to seize Kelo’s home. As the New York Times reported this week:
“The New London project is essentially delayed, even after the Supreme Court go-ahead, because of contractual disputes and an unwillingness to forcibly remove the homeowners who sued to save their properties.”
The Times also reports on bills in 43 states, most with bipartisan support that would allow local governments to use eminent domain only for such traditional public projects as schools and highways:
“Seldom has a Supreme Court decision sparked such an immediate legislative reaction, and one that scrambles the usual partisan lines. Condemnation of the ruling came from black lawmakers representing distressed urban districts, from suburbanites and from Western property-rights absolutists who rarely see eye to eye on anything. Lawmakers from Maine to California have introduced dozens of bills in reaction to the ruling, most of them saying that government should never seize private homes or businesses solely to benefit a private developer.”
Of course, there’s still a big liberal vested interest in Big, Powerful Government, not to mention the vested interest that government has in staying big. So we also get this from the Times:
“More neutral observers expressed concern that state officials, in their zeal to protect homeowners and small businesses, would handcuff local governments that are trying to revitalize dying cities and fill in blighted areas with projects that produce tax revenues and jobs.
“‘It’s fair to say that many states are on the verge of seriously overreacting to the Kelo decision,’ said John D. Echeverria, executive director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute and an authority on land-use policy. “The danger is that some legislators are going to attempt to destroy what is a significant and sometimes painful but essential government power. The extremist position is a prescription for economic decline for many metropolitan areas around the county.'”
Remember that in TimesSpeak, “more neutral” means “more liberal,” and “extremist position” means “caring more about the rights of homeowners than the power of local governments to seize people’s property in the name of ambitious–and often unsuccessful–urban renewal.”
If you’d to do something about the Kelo ruling, click to this Institute for Justice site.