Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Good Book

Little Pink House is the story of Susette Kelo of New London, CT, and her neighbors in their attempt to hold on to their properties against the New London Development Corporation's use of eminent domain to develop the area into privately owned facilities that would generate higher property tax.

Mr. Benedict does an excellent job telling the story from several sides. If a person reads the book without a strong belief in the importance of personal property rights, he or she could almost side with any of the various entities in this battle.

When Joe and I lived In Madison, WI, during our college years, we were blessed to have the friendship of the State Business Director, Rolf Wegenke. Through that friendship, I was introduced to the idea that communities need thriving businesses to flourish. And I understand that a state has a certain interest in helping communities developing local businesses. Also, the state sometimes has more resources to help match up a given community with a potential incoming business. So also, I can understand that the state of Connecticut had a genuine interest in helping the depressed community of New London to find incoming business. I can understand that.

I can also understand that the city of New London, having lost much of their industry and also having an inordinate proportion of non-profit and other tax free entities in their community, would willingly accept any financial and brainstorming help the state could give. I can understand that. They were kind of over a barrel.

I can also understand that concerned citizens with connections might join together in a non-profit organization in order to promote and help finance development ideas. See this is all good, right.

Wrong. In Kelo v. City of New London, there were two major areas in which this case diverged from previously held legal precedent.
  1. The US Supreme Court ruled that even in an area that is not blighted, a municipality may use eminent domain to condemn private property.
  2. A municipality need not require development from the recipients of such condemned property.
Interestingly, this case has been in the news again this week because of President Obama Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. In discussing her take on this precedent setting case, Judge Sotomayor misrepresents both of these important aspects of the case. The bloggers at Volokh Conspiracy have been writing about this decision in the context of the confirmation hearings.

Legal and constitutional aspects of this case aside, after I read Little Pink House, the necessity of constitutionally protected private property became much more emotionally apparent. The facts of this case are so sad. Ms Kelo has recently purchased the home of her dreams, a little pink house with a view of the water. She invests time and money and emotion into historically sensitive remodelling. Before her undertaking is even complete, her home gets ripped away from her in a process that takes years.

The stories of the other homeowners who filed along with Ms Kelo are all compelling. These are regular people. The homes were cared for. The neighborhood was intact.

And guess what. Now, after four years the properties still sit vacant. The buildings have been razed. The rubble still sits. The site is overgrown. Now it is an eyesore. And now, no one will touch it because of the negative publicity generated by this property grab.

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