How the Supreme Court Destroyed Property Rights and a Little Pink House

From Sarah McIntosh at Flint Hills Center for Public Policy:

Title: How the Supreme Court Destroyed Property Rights and a Little Pink House

Author: Sarah McIntosh

Three years ago the United States Supreme Court made a decision that not only threatened the very core of Americans’ property rights, but also destroyed the dreams of a woman who just wanted to live in her beautiful pink house.

Perhaps you have already heard the story. If not, I will warn you it is a sad one. Ms. Suzette Kelo moved to New London Connecticut in 1997 after a divorce. She found an old cottage from 1893 that was in dismal shape, but she saw the promise in it. Even the front door was overgrown when she first laid eyes on it. But she purchased the cottage and started fixing it up right away.

She had a lot of work to do from the foundation to the roof. She devoted time, energy, and money to transforming the ramshackled cottage into a beautiful home. Ms. Kelo worked as a nurse and held other jobs on the side in order to make ends meet.

But she had not been in her home long before she learned that Pfizer Corp. was going to build an R&D center and there would be some redevelopment plans going into effect. She read in the paper that some residents’ properties would be taken through the power of eminent domain, if they refused to sell. That’s when Ms. Kelo began her mantra, “Not for Sale.”

Unfortunately, despite her strong will and her efforts to build advocacy groups to fight the plans, Ms. Kelo lost her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. In the landmark ruling, the Supreme Court gutted the 5th Amendment which says, in part, “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The key words for this case being “for public use.”

What is public use? Well, it’s much easier to understand the purpose for the clause when you consider that there are times when the government might want to undergo a public project on what has been private land, such as building a highway or a park. But how can Ms. Kelo’s land be for public use when it is being taken because a private company wants to come to town?

The Supreme Court ruled that Ms. Kelo’s land and her home could be taken for the use of a private developer because the development might result in increased tax revenue and jobs. In this shocking ruling the Court destroyed the essence of property protection in the Constitution.

Amidst some public outcry and the Court’s acknowledgment that the states were not barred from restricting this use of eminent domain, many states strengthened their eminent domain laws to protect private property by creating more stringent conditions on what can be considered “public use.” This is something all states should do to protect their citizens and state supreme courts should prohibit this use of this eminent domain power in their states. Both Ohio and Oklahoma have done this but Kansas has not.

We should all take heed of Ms. Kelo’s story and her fight. A book about her plight was recently published, “Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage.” It’s up to common citizens to make sure that the government respects property rights; it might be your little (insert color) house next.
Sarah McIntosh is the former Vice President of Programs for the Kansas-based Flint Hills Center for Public Policy. For more information or a photo of Ms. McIntosh, please contact the Flint Hills Center at information@flinthills.org or (316) 634-0218. To learn more about the Flint Hills Center, please visit www.flinthills.org.

Flint Hills Center for Public Policy • 250 N. Water, Suite 216 • Wichita, KS 67202-1215 • (316) 634-0218

As a non-profit, nonpartisan think tank, the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy is an independent voice for sound public policy solutions that will enhance the well-being of all Kansans. Visit www.flinthills.org for more information.

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