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In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that sent shock waves through everyone who assumed that the government could not seize private property without a very good reason, usually involving a public use like a new highway or other critical infrastructure project.
In a highly controversial 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, CT, the High Court upheld the condemnation of several private homes to make way for an expansion of Pfizer’s huge research facility on an adjacent property. To our knowledge, this was the first time the Court had affirmed that eminent domain could be invoked to transfer property from one private owner to another to facilitate a commercial real estate project.
The razor-thin Supreme Court majority said the ”general benefits” to the community from the economic growth promised by the development outweighed the traditional prohibition against the use of eminent domain to force people out of their homes for anything other than a crucial public project.
Well, now comes news from Connecticut that Pfizer not only has abandoned its expansion plans, but the pharmaceuticals giant will shut down its massive New London research and development headquarters and transfer most of the 1,400 people working there to Groton.
So much for ”general benefits.” OK, we know what you’re thinking: the homeowners get their houses back, right?
Oops. Pfizer—which paid next to nothing for the condemned property—already tore them down, leaving nothing but a wasteland of fields full of weeds.
Suzette Kelo, a homeowner who fought the seizure all the way to the Supreme Court, said through her legal counsel, Scott Bullock:
“This shows the folly of these redevelopment projects that use massive taxpayer subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare and abuse eminent domain.”
Memo to Chief Justice Roberts and the Supremes: Perhaps you should revisit this issue and rethink your decision, if you are not too busy deciding weighty matters like whether the Washington Redskins should keep their name.
If Justice Roberts and his colleagues don’t want to give this questionable ruling another look-see, there is another course of action that can rectify the situation.
Constitutional amendment, anyone?