Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Supreme Court to hear Kelo v. New London

Eminent Domain for Private Development the Issue

The Supreme Court today will hear the landmark case of Kelo v. New London. At issue is whether the city of New London can seize the neighborhood of Fort Trumbull through eminent domain in order for a private developer to build a hotel, convention center and condominiums.

The issue at stake is whether eminent domain can be used for private development. The public-private New London Development Corp., which is spearheading the drive to "revitalize" New London, says yes. The remaining citizens of Fort Trumbull say no. If you are from or familiar with this area of the state, you probably know the story pretty well.

So... will the public benefit from the redevelopment of Fort Trumbull? It depends on who you mean by "the public". Theoretically, the plan will bring a windfall of tax revenue into the city, which will lead to better roads, schools and services. So the ordinary citizens of New London may benefit, if all goes as planned, but they will obviously not benefit as much as the developer and the NLDC. Also, the facilities being built are not in any sense "public" (with the possible exception of the convention center).

There are two issues here:
1. Poor/lower middle class people are being kicked out of their homes for a private development that will only tangentially benefit them. Here's a blatent example of the gentrification plans the NLDC has:

“They have over 90 acres now,” Kelo said. “It’s more than enough room to build on. We never said they can’t build. We just said ‘We want to stay.’ ”

But Kelo’s apricot-colored house, with a decorative outhouse in the front yard and wind chimes made of silverware, doesn’t fit in the city’s development plans.

“They just would not be compatible with all the other uses,” said Edward O’Connell, an attorney representing the New London Development Corp., the quasi-public agency behind the redevelopment effort. (Apuzzo)

Poorer houses and neighborhoods don't fit with the city's plans. This, apart from simply being snobbish, is also terrible development. It's better to work with what you have rather than destroying it to gamble on something new. Convention centers, like ballparks, are not magic bullets. Their impact on the local economy can be negligible, especially if no conventions come. Today, when every city large and small has a convention hall, this is a very real possibility.

2. This is a reckless abuse of government power. The government shouldn't be seizing homes to further private development. Locke argued that one of the fundamental purposes of government was to protect private property; this is clearly in stark opposition to that principle! Whether the public good will be served by razing Fort Trumbull is questionable at best; this should clearly not fall under the Fifth Amendment's eminent domain clause.

Liberals and conservatives alike should be wary of this attempted land grab, and the Supreme Court ruling, if there is one, will be a landmark.

Apuzzo, Matt. "Conn. residents fight eminent domain law". Associated Press 20 February 2005.
Moran, Kate. "‘It's Hard To Believe We've Come This Far'". New London Day 22 February 2005.


Anonymous said...

We'll find out soon enoughThe question may turn on whether private property that could be taken for public use, can also be taken for the public's interest. The answer to the latter is probably Yes. Which backs the question up to, How is the public's interest determined; by elected officials? by a public agency? by a referendum?

How SCOTUS rules may also turn on the matter of public necessity, which doesn't seem clear. Most of the desired property has already been acquired for re-use, Why do they need it all?

Genghis Conn said...

Public interest and public necessity are vague terms, and I imagine it will come down to which definition the Supreme Court agrees with.

A ruling is not expected until June, unfortunately. Not surprising, considering the ill health of the chief justice.