Property Rights

John Paul Stevens: Kelo Was No Big Deal

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In his new memoir Five Chiefs, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens comments on a variety of significant cases that came his way during his three decades on the Court. Noticeably absent from that list is Kelo v. City of New London, the notorious 2005 eminent domain ruling where Stevens upheld the bulldozing of a nice neighborhood so that the local government—working in cahoots with the Pfizer Corporation—could hand the land over to a private developer. Speaking to Wall Street Journal reporter Jess Bravin last week, Stevens broke his silence about the controversial case, though his lame defense is unlikely to persuade many critics:

"It's the most unpopular opinion I ever wrote, no doubt about it," Justice Stevens said in an interview. He said he empathized with Ms. Kelo, "but the legal issue would have been exactly the same if it had been a gas station or a pool hall."

In other words, Stevens would let the government have the same free rein to use public power for private gain whether or not the unfortunate property owner happened to be a sympathetic victim. Duly noted.

As for the national backlash against his ruling, Stevens admits that it has put a slight damper on his social life:

"I had people at a bridge game stop me and ask, 'How could you have written that opinion? We thought you were a good judge, but we learned otherwise,' " he said.