Kelo Revisited

By Amy Alkon


donkeyrock
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from Advice Goddess Blog.

Kelo Revisited
It’s Charlotte Allen’s latest piece for the Weekly Standard. She says it’s hard to figure out what’s sadder: the dying city of New London, Connecticut, or the dozens of homes that got seized and razed by the city in the name of “economic development” that never materialized.

The Kelo decision did not come out of the blue, constitutionally speaking. In a 1954 decision, Berman v. Parker, the High Court had ruled unanimously, in an opinion written by William O. Douglas, perhaps the most liberal justice ever to sit on the Supreme Court, to uphold the power of a redevelopment agency created by Congress to seize and demolish almost the entire Southwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., on the ground that it was a “blighted area” and “blighted areas .  .  . tend to produce slums.” Blight removal was a “public use,” according to Douglas​–​and from there it was only a short step to economic development as a public use. The Berman and Kelo rulings affirmed a particular kind of liberal vision: that large-scale and intricate government plans trump individuals’ property rights. The Berman case involved a thriving department store in Southwest that could not in any way have been said to be a slum property and whose owners wanted it to stay where it was​–​just as Susette Kelo and the Cristofaros wanted to stay where they were. The only thing to be said for the Berman decision is that Southwest did eventually get rebuilt​–​although in a blockish, Brutalist fashion that made many architectural critics nostalgic for the old days of “blight.”

Still, my visit to New London on two subfreezing days in January revealed that the story of the Kelo case was something more than the story of a particularly nasty and overbearing abuse of either eminent domain or government power in general. It was also a tragedy, with all the classical Greek elements: hubris, turn of fortune, cathartic downfall, and possibly the “learning through suffering” that Aristotle in his Poetics argued was the point of tragic drama. Possibly but perhaps not likely: During the five years since Pfizer left New London, the city has placed its hopes in two more grandiose plans for Fort Trumbull and its environs that never materialized, and it may be poised to embark on still another. The story of the Kelo case is in part the story of a city so desperate, so economically beleaguered, that it was willing to try anything to bring …read more

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