Beyond the Cusp

December 9, 2017

Do You Really Own You Home?


Kelo v. City of New London was the test case which now is the frame for the law of the land on private ownership of property. This case went to the Supreme Court of the United States where there was a conservative court of five Republican appointees and four Democrat appointees in 2005. As expected, the final vote was five to four but we will keep which way the vote went until later. First, let us review the particulars of this case. The plaintiff was Susette Kelo who owned a private home and sued the city of New London, Connecticut, over their use of Eminent Domain to transfer land from one private owner to another private owner in order to further economic development. The city posed the argument that their transfer of these lands, which included the home of Susette Kelo, to a private developer would expand the tax base plus provide economic development and jobs which would benefit a much larger segment of the people making the taking of the homes of these citizens worth doing in order to promote the general good. The citizens represented by Susette Kelo based their claim that their homes, as private property, were a sacred trust protected which was a superior claim and that the claim to use Eminent Domain was not a legal use as the transfer was not for a public use building and that Eminent Domain was solely applicable to public works such as roads, schools, hospitals, libraries and other such structures and not for providing the lands to a developer to build which was referenced as a “Comprehensive Redevelopment Plan.”


We remember when this case was being discussed on talk radio and in many of the nation’s newspapers. The breakdown on which side was supported was predictable. The mostly older citizens represented by Susette Kelo were supported by the conservative and right wing media while New London, Connecticut, government representing the developers was supported by the liberal and leftist media with a few notable exceptions who were true liberals with a very libertarian outlook. The arguments went as expected. Those supporting Susette Kelo held that personal property rights were superior to granting a big developer use of these lands over the individuals whose families had lived in this neighborhood for decades. The leftists and many liberals supported the “Comprehensive Redevelopment Plan” as it would provide increased revenue for the city of New London, Connecticut, thus benefitting the entire city over the few people. This was the public debate and that was a heated debate for that time. One need remember that the Internet was still young and social media was still to come so this debate took place in the old school arenas, that being radio, television, cable TV, newspapers and magazines. As we have stated, it was straight-forward individual citizen’s rights who owned their property over the designs and dreams of a developer and the greed of city administrators licking their chops at the increased tax base. But there was a surprise waiting to take the day in court.


Susette Kelo and House (top) New London, Connecticut Kull Property Development Plan (bottom)

Susette Kelo and House (top)
New London, Connecticut Kull Property Development Plan (bottom)


The argument in the court found their trumping argument, they portrayed the remaining homeowners’ properties as eyesores, rundown, in need of repair and every other degrading description they could imagine, and they were imaginative. They had bought the majority of properties and either leveled them or left them to fall into disrepair. This furthered their insistence that these properties were eyesores and many below standards for viability. One look at the residence of Susette Kelo shows a well kept and very livable condition, but there were sufficient other residences which were available for the city and the developer to make their case for demolition of the remaining residences allowing them to receive the orders for destruction in order to upgrade the entire area. The combined arguments and predominance of evidence supporting that this was an old and run down area played a main role in allowing the decision to leave the longtime homeowners with nowhere left to turn. Additionally, their losing the case meant they were forced to accept the city’s low figure for buying their homes. The homeowners who fought city hall did so out of a deep family attachment to their homes which many of the residents had grown up in as children and inherited from their parents who in some cases inherited them from their parents. When you live in a multi-generation house, the attachment is deep and often will lead one to become overly emotional. These homeowners would very likely had received a far greater amount for their homes had they simply taken the developers final offer rather than fight them in the courts. Such a fight is unfortunately a losing fight which the homeowner will lose, if not in the near time, then in the long-term, as was the case here. Going to court is always a last resort and even if you win the initial case, the developer has attorneys on their payrolls so it does not cost them anything but time to appeal and appeal and eventually they will find a sympathetic judge and once they win, the homeowner is highly unlikely to get that decision reversed as the higher court will defer to the judgement of the lower court as to the conditions at the local level. This was a case, pure and simple, of you cannot fight city hall. Apparently, the Supreme Court agrees with that adage.


Beyond the Cusp


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