Can the Government Force You Out of Your House? | Kelo v. New London

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In episode 48 of Supreme Court Briefs, a woman gets kicked out of her home. She fights back. #supremecourtbriefs #eminentdomain #law

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Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage by Jeff Benedict

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New London, Connecticut

1997

Susette (Suzette) Kelo drives by a run down house along the Thames (Tames) River that has been for sale for awhile. Even though the house is run down, she falls in love with it and buys it. She spends months completely renovating the 107-year old Victorian-style cottage, painting it pink. The house had a great view of the water, and was in a working-class neighborhood called Fort Trumbull. Unfortunately, the neighborhood had been in decline for years, as there were few decent paying jobs nearby. But Susette didn’t care. She loved her little pink house and its view of the harbor. She soon met a dude named Tim LeBlanc, who helped her do exterior work on the house. Eventually the two would get married and live there together.

But then, in January 1998, real estate agents began knocking on her door, offering lots of money to buy her house on behalf of “an unnamed buyer.” Kelo was suspicious, and turned down all offers. However, agents began to tell her if she didn’t sell her house, she would be forced out of her home by the city due to something called “eminent domain.” Eminent domain, you say? What the heck is that?

Eminent domain is the right for a government to just take private property for public use. In other words, if the government thinks it is in the best interest of all its citizens, it can kick you out of your house. Both the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution say the government can use eminent domain, but it just requires “just compensation.”

Susette Kelo didn’t care how much money New London was offering her. She loved her little pink house, and wasn’t going anywhere. Neither were 14 other Fort Trumbull residents. They decided to fight. Wait a second, why was New London trying to kick them out?

Well Pfizer, a multinational pharmaceutical corporation, was opening a new facility in New London, right next to the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. Part of the deal were plans to “fix up” Fort Trumbull, including building a new hotel, conference center, and fancy housing for the scientists working at Pfizer. This would require major government help. $73 million in help. Yep, the state of Connecticut would pitch in $73 million to kick out the Fort Trumbull residents, demolish their homes, and update the area with new roads and utilities.

Once Kelo and the other Fort Trumbull residents who didn’t want to leave their homes found out about this, they sued the city. Meanwhile, an organization called the New London Development Corporation, or NLDC, was already demolishing homes. By the time of the trial, which went to the New London Superior Court in July 2001, the NLDC already had acquired around 80 buildings and destroyed most of them.

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