Property Rights

Marking the Fifth Anniversary of Kelo v. City of New London


In 1998 the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced plans to build a giant new research and development center in New London, Connecticut. As part of the deal, city officials agreed to clear out neighboring property owners via eminent domain, giving a private developer space to build a fancy new hotel, apartment buildings, and office towers to complement the corporate facility. Five years ago today, in Kelo v. City of New London, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld this seizure of private property because it was part of a "comprehensive redevelopment plan" that would provide "appreciable benefits to the community."

Half a decade has now passed and we know exactly how well Kelo worked out. The project that was used to entice Pfizer was never built, and last year the company announced that it was closing down its facility and pulling out of New London entirely. The only upshot of this atrocious decision is the nationwide backlash it sparked against eminent domain abuse, including several successful legal challenges and the passage of eminent domain reform in 43 states.

To mark the occasion of Kelo's fifth anniversary, here's a sampling of Reason's voluminous coverage of the decision and its aftermath:

Never Mind the Kelo, Here's Scott Bullock. The attorney who argued the landmark eminent domain case surveys the blight. Interview by Tim Cavanaugh.

Why the New York Times ?s Eminent Domain. Elite newspapers and liberal activists embrace the Kelo decision at their long-term peril. By Matt Welch.

The Limits of Anti-Kelo Legislation. Reformers are trying to outlaw eminent domain abuse. But will the laws they're passing be effective? By Ilya Somin.

Post-Kelo America: An Optimist's View. Reforms are making progress. By Bert Gall.

Litigating for Liberty. The Institute for Justice's Chip Mellor on campaign finance reform, eminent domain abuse, and licensing laws gone wild. Interview by Nick Gillespie.

Not for Sale. The little pink house that sparked an eminent domain revolution. By Scott Bullock.

The Pro-Corporate Legacy of Justice John Paul Stevens. By Damon Root.

Big Blighters. How developers use "blight" as a pretext to get the land they covet. By Jacob Sullum.

And in the video below, legal experts from the Institute for Justice look at Kelo five years later:

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: Meet the Oil Fund Czar, McChrystal To Resign, BP's Broken Windows

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I get angry every time I am reminded of this. What is the point of having private property if the government can just steal it and give it to someone else?

  2. There should be a public BBQ on the open lot.

  3. Maybe the Healer-in-Chief can direct some stimulus money to commissioning a mural for the Supreme Court building.

    So the Justices can contemplate a weedy, derelict cityscape as they enter their chamber to hear more representatives of Big Nanny lay out their case for central planning.

  4. “But we had such big plans! Won’t anyone think of our big plans?”

    1. “So you’re in the Pocket of Big Planning?”

  5. Oh wow, that really makes a lot of sense dude. Very good stuff indeed.

    1. We miss you Lou, these new Annon-bots just aren’t the same.

      1. Lou’s intelligence evolved too quickly, he got tired of trying to correct Tony, Chad and Dan T.

        He’s now spitballing the CERN researchers.

  6. That “at their long-term peril” sub is still some serious not getting it.

    The “long-term” idea, as “elite newspapers and liberal activists” increasingly frequently remind us, is to beat the people down, legally, to render them helpless to resist the Man’s plans for them. Kelo was progress to that end, and the “backlash” has been ineffectual, because it can’t lawfully be otherwise.
    It’s TEABAG CRACKPOT IN HOMEMADE TANK RAMPAGE or nothing, now. And either way, they win.

  7. I distinctly remember joe sounding off on how the use eminent domain for private developments was (in general, though possibly not in the particular case of Kelo) justified if it produced an increased tax base and therefore revenue for the local government.

    How’s the tax base of New London doing, BTW? Have any of the members of the council that pushed it through had the grace to resign?

  8. If only we had more liberal justices who could have stopped those evil GOP appointees from trampling our civil liberties.

    1. Yeah, no shit.

  9. A couple here in Virginia – Roanoke, to be more precise – recently were Kelo’d out of their property, after spending something like $600,000 of their life savings fighting it. All to save land that the supposed beneficiary stated it didn’t want. But the local government wanted to take it as part of the project – which now apparently is not going to happen anyhow.

    And the sad thing is that the Virginia General Assembly passed a law to prevent Kelo-style takings, but Roanoke acted to condemn this couple’s property something like two days before the statute went into effect – quite clearly knowing that the statute would prevent the taking, so they hurried up to get it done before that date.

    One story about the case here.

  10. You guys should at least be comforted by the fact that the government was helping a virtuous and oppressed multi-national corporation make some more money on overpriced medications. This near-criticism is near-heresy. What comes first? Human rights and dignity or a shitload of money for the multi-nationals? You’ll be criticizing BP next for shoddy procedures and sub-standard safety equipment instead of writing them love letters if this keeps up!

    1. You guys should at least be comforted by the fact that the government was helping

      Whoops. Lost me on the first turn.

  11. My town council planned a redevelopment in our downtown. The owner bulldozed the buildings to prepare for the new construction. A couple of years later, it is still an empty lot.

    1. Gonna need a couple of more dots to make the connection to Kelo, jtuf.

      Did the town council acquire the lots to aid the developer?

      Or is this just another case of a guy with big plans who ran out of (hopefully his own) money?

  12. Nice spokes-babe.

    1. That’s what I was thinking. It’s times like these I wish I was very wealthy.

      “Why yes, Ms. Walsh, I really like the work IJ does. I’d like to donate $250,000. And are you doing anything for dinner?”

  13. In the meantime, take a look at what the old fashioned, entrepreneurial spirit has accomplished in New London. New London Harbour Towers is leading the current downtown revitization activity with a new luxury presence. Hats off to the developers who procured the property and took a risk because they believe in the future of New London.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.