How many of you remember the Kelo vs City of New London eminent domain case? I remember it clearly. I was in shock that the work of our founding fathers and one of our own original Bill of Rights could so swiftly be taken away from us. The town of New London used eminent domain to forcibly take Fort Trumbell neighborhood homes away from the private homeowners and gave it to private property developers. These folks’ homes were in great condition and in a well maintained neighborhood. The city claimed they could enforce the eminent domain clause under the grounds that the land would serve a “public benefit” by creating new development projects which would bring in new jobs and new businesses. They wanted Pfizer, the large pharmaceutical company, to come to town and with Pfizer as an anchor redevelop the land surrounding the company. They were hoping to generate tax revenue for their city at the expense of their own citizens. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court who in a 5-4 vote favored with the city of New London.
New London won, bulldozed the Fort Trumbell neighborhood down and welcomed Pfizer in 2005. Many Americans were furious with the Supreme Courts’ decision. How could the court rule in favor of allowing the government to take away private property and give to another private company for economic gains? The whole purpose of the eminent domain clause, which has been in existence for over 200 years, is to protect American citizens from having their property taking away from them other than for public use purposes. So is that it? Are Americans left with nothing to protect their private property from being stolen?
Well for those who were upset at the Supreme Courts’ decision here is the sequence of events that unfolded in the aftermath of their ruling. President Bush in 2006 signed an executive order stating that any property taken through the Eminent Domain Clause by the federal government must be used for the “public benefit” and not for the economic interest of any other private parties. This is great but what about on a state level? What can be done to prevent states from taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling? Due to the public outrage and fear of many Americans, many states did pass laws restricting the use of eminent domain to protect their residents from having their property forcibly taken away from them for private economic gains.
It is now 2012, seven years after the Supreme Court ruling. New London may have won the case, but at what cost? How did the eminent domain clause help to benefit the city? Did Pfizer create many jobs for their residents? The answer is no. Only four years after winning the case, Pfizer announced their plans to pull out of New London and downsize operations to their Groton, CT location. Did the redevelopment of all the homes and shops in Fort Trumbell generate enough revenue to benefit the public? Well, not in the last seven years it hasn’t. New London has only just started to break ground on redeveloping the Fort Trumbell peninsula. The reason for the delay was from the negative outcry of their residents and the rest of the United States. In fact, the city received so much negative publicity for their actions, that the New London Development Corporation recently elected this year to change their name to the Renaissance City Development Association. They changed their mission statement and changed the leadership of the organization, all in an effort to escape from the negative image the corporation earned from their use of the eminent domain clause. Mayor Daryl Finizio also restricted the way the city of New London can enforce eminent domain to be limited only for public use and not for public benefit. Finizio said earlier this year, “…on behalf of the city of New London, to apologize to all those adversely affected by the City’s past use of eminent domain”.
So what does eminent domain abuse get you? In New London, years of negative backlash, angry residents, and very little benefits for the public.