As the Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby notes, if the film "Little Pink House," which opens in selected theaters Friday, were about humble citizens fighting a big corporation, the citizens would likely win. Think Erin Brockovich.
But Little Pink House is about citizens fighting something more powerful: government. In this case, the city government of New London, Connecticut wanted to take their houses so that the land can be used in a "better" way by the Pfizer company. Forget property rights. When the neighborhood protested, the government used eminent domain to seize their property.
Led by Susette Kelo–played in the movie by Catherine Keener– the home owners fought all the way to the Supreme Court, where they lost 5 to 4. The Kelo decision has been controversial since. Jacoby writes:
Kelo v. City of New London effectively turned an explicit constitutional right into a nullity. Though the language of the Fifth Amendment is clear — “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation” — state and local governments for years had been getting away with using eminent domain to facilitate what amounted to private development. The New London case offered a perfect opportunity to end that abuse, by reaffirming that when the Constitution says “public use,” it means public use. Instead it did the opposite, and Americans were appalled.
The homeowners were represented by the Institute for Justice. The name of the film refers to Ms. Kelo's beloved cottage, which she had bought and painted pink. Susette Kelo wrote about her house earlier this week in USA Today.
In a press release announcing a Washington panel and showing of the movie, the Institute for Justice explains why it considers the issue so important:
Eminent domain abuse–the government's use of eminent domain not for a public use, such as for a courthouse, as required by the U.S. Constitution, but for private use by another party–is a widespread problem across the nation.
The poor, elderly, and minorities, according to the press release, are the most likely to be affected by the abuse of eminent domain.
And what, you might ask, became of the property seized from the New London neighbors? A thriving development that justifies the government's actions? Hardly:
It’s still a wasteland today. The grand redevelopment that Pfizer craved and Connecticut politicians were determined to push through never happened. No hotel, no condos, no added tax revenue. Pfizer itself has left New London. Kelo, Dery, and their neighbors were dispossessed, and part of the Bill of Rights was gutted, for nothing.
Another case of government knowing better than citizens.