KELO: Five Years Later

The Little Pink House that changed America still stands strong.

Five years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued what would soon become one of the most despised decisions in its history. In a controversial 5-4 opinion, the Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that governments could take your home–or business, farm or church–and hand it over to another private individual, provided the new owner promised to generate more tax revenue with your property.

The Institute for Justice, the libertarian public interest law firm that litigated Kelo and cases like it around the country, just released this video announcing that, while they lost the Kelo battle, they are winning the eminent domain war:

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Simply put, the backlash to Kelo has been unprecedented. In the past five years:

  • 9 state high courts have limited eminent domain powers
  • 43 state legislatures have passed greater property rights protections
  • 44 eminent domain abuse projects have been defeated by grassroots activists
  • 88 percent of the public now believe that property rights are as important as free speech and freedom of religion

The U.S. Supreme Court typically leads the state courts, which usually adopt its rulings and interpret state laws in a similar manner. But with Kelo, the exact opposite happened. In January 2006, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously to reject the Supreme Court’s eminent domain analysis. The Oklahoma and South Dakota supreme courts soon followed in expressly rejecting the high court decision. So far, Kelo has prompted nine state high courts to limit eminent domain powers.

The legislative response was also historic. 43 states have enacted statutory reforms or passed constitutional amendments to guarantee greater property rights protection. 35 state reforms include prohibitions against taking property for economic development. And 22 states made it much more difficult to bulldoze homes in the name of bogus blight. For detailed look at all 50 states, see the Castle Coalition’s 50 State Report Card.

Perhaps most importantly, the general public let their voices be heard. Not long ago, eminent domain was a funny sounding legal term that few people knew about. The Kelo decision sparked an explosion of outrage all across the country. Americans took to the streets, the air-waves, townhalls, newspapers and the blogosphere to stand up for private property. Grassroots activists nationwide proved time and again that you can fight city hall and win. At least 44 eminent domain abuse projects have been defeated by citizen activists post-Kelo. Over 1,000 community leaders have attended workshops to learn how to successfully fight for their private property rights.

Americans of all political affiliations and backgrounds have joined together to voice their overwhelming opposition to eminent domain abuse. A recent survey by the Associated Press showed that 75 percent oppose property being taken by government and handed over to private developers; 87 percent oppose eminent domain for redevelopment and 88 percent believe that property rights are just as important as free speech and freedom of religion.

Of course, IJ recognizes that the fight is not over. Just yesterday, New York’s highest court paved the way for a massive eminent domain abuse project. A short report titled Five Years After Kelo states that, “challenging work remains to be done in fighting eminent domain abuse. Weak state reforms must be strengthened. Moreover, property owners must be vigilant.”

And for the Little Pink House that started it all?

Susette Kelo’s entire neighborhood was bulldozed to make way for the private development project. 75 homes and several businesses were destroyed. Over $80 million in taxpayer dollars were funneled into the redevelopment project. And yet, there’s still no construction. The property sits vacant. The local paper ran a story, Feral Cats Ignore Eminent Domain, explaining that the only residents of the empty field are cats and birds.

The Kelo cottage was purchased by a preservationist and moved to a neighborhood a mile away, safe from the wrecking ball. The Little Pink House stands strong and safe, serving as a monument to private property rights and an important reminder that a small group of people committed to a powerful cause can indeed make the world a better place.

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