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Free Minds & Free Markets

Kelo's 'Little Pink House' Stands as a Monument to Injustice

A powerful new film portrays an infuriating act of eminent domain abuse.

The United States is supposed to be the "land of the free," a country where individualism and private property are sacrosanct. Yet it's difficult to maintain this belief while watching Courtney Moorehead Balaker's newly released movie, Little Pink House.

The film portrays the real-life story of the determined families who fought to protect their homes in New London, Connecticut, during and after city officials' shameful attempts to evict them starting in 1998. Shockingly, in 2005, it was the Supreme Court that inflicted the ultimate defeat to the homeowners, who lost everything in the process.

Depressing, right? Actually, the movie turns out to be one of defiance and courage in the face of the government's misuse of the Constitution's Takings Clause (i.e., eminent domain). It's the inspiring story of the pro bono lawyers who represented the victims all the way to the Supreme Court because of their belief in economic freedom.

It's also an important reminder that the fight is never over, even after five justices ruled that it was OK for the government to confiscate private property because it thinks it would be more lucrative in the hands of others. Ultimately, it's a story of those who fight for their rights no matter how small their odds of prevailing are.

This story's main hero is Susette Kelo, the face of the rebellion and owner of the "Little Pink House." She wouldn't sell to the New London Development Corp., a private nonprofit body that wanted to use her land to build a biotech park, complete with a hotel and fancy houses. Note that we aren't talking about government's forcing people to sell their homes to build highways or hospitals. We're talking about a nongovernmental organization's being granted authority to kick people out of their homes in the name of the "public benefit." That's redefined here to mean the proceeds, real or imagined, from the giant pharmaceutical company Pfizer's constructing a global research center. The movie repeatedly treats us to a sleazy NLDC representative touting the 1,000 jobs and potential $1.3 million in annual taxes from the Pfizer investment and equating it to social justice.

The film's other heroes are the lawyers of the Virginia-based Institute for Justice. Throughout the film, they relentlessly expose an unfair system that allows a company to take someone else's property just because it can potentially generate more tax revenues. IJ defends its client before the Supreme Court, but it's clear that it is also fighting for all of us who might similarly lose our homes in the future.

It's fighting for the Motel 6 that could be displaced to build a Ritz-Carlton—and all of the other small businesses that might stand in the way of something bigger. Though Kelo lost in a 5-4 decision, the plea for economic freedom over the unfair confiscation of private property was heard by millions of concerned Americans. The argument founded a movement that introduced legislation to curtail similar governmental actions in 21 states within a month of the infuriating ruling.

The worst villain in this movie isn't an actual person, but it's still on display throughout the film. It's the disgusting alliance between government and private businesses. Scene after scene pits a politically connected company against Kelo and friends. But these victims were visible and didn't go without a fight. Unfortunately, collateral victims don't often know that they're the victims of crony programs such as this, which protect profits rather than people.

And as if Kelo's losing her home weren't punishing enough, the saga continued after the ruling. Once Pfizer exhausted the subsidies that the city used to attract it to New London, it moved again, to collect subsidies elsewhere—leaving behind a vacant lot where the Little Pink House once stood.

This cronyism is rampant at all levels of our government. But no matter what form it takes, it always hurts the most vulnerable and least politically connected Americans while propping up the profits of the most powerful and plugged-in companies. Little Pink House puts a real face on these victims and those who abused them, and it shows why we must always fight against this injustice.

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  • Rat on a train||

    Collectivism cares not for individuals. If it is for the common good it is (living) constitutional.

  • Elston G||

    What does collectivism have to do with corporate facist interests in taking individual property?

  • Rat on a train||

    They needed a collectivist government to seize the property.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    And collect the taxes.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If the lefties ever get in charge again, they might just seize the rights to this movie and turn over the rights of ownership to a private developer.

  • Elston G||

    What was the political makeup of the Supreme Court that ruled on Kelo?

  • Rat on a train||

    Majority: Stevens, joined by Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer

  • Philippe Lacoude||

    Which reminds us Stevens has mostly ruled as a statocrat...

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    You didn't think that question through did you? Or were you that ignorant on the decision?

  • Rat on a train||

    Buyer: I really like your house. It is in a great location and has an excellent floor plan. I want to buy it.
    Owner: It's not for sale.

    Buyer: The owner won't sell lot 90-34b. If you take it from the owner, I will pay a higher property tax.
    Government: Done. It's for the public good.

    It's only bribery if you pay the government official directly.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Your example is exactly why the 5th Amendment specifically includes the term "taken for public use". The SCOTUS justices should know better that this does not mean take from private people and give to private parties via eminent domain as long as you pay some kind of compensation.

    Amendment V
    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;
    nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    If "interstate commerce" can be tortured so badly that it now encompasses every possible human activity, you better believe "public use" is gonna be a snap to stretch.

  • sarcasmic||

    The job of the judiciary is to contort the constitution into justifying whatever the legislative or executive wants.

    Checks and balances are dead.

  • MSimon||

    Checks are in the mail or delivered by a trusted assistant.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    A little Spooner is appropriate here: "The Constitution has either authorized such a government as we have had, or else has been powerless to prevent it. In neither case is it fit to exist."

  • Cynical Asshole||

    "public use" is gonna be a snap to stretch.

    We're gonna take your land and then give it to this private company, who will build some nice condos and shit on it and pay more in property taxes than you do. Those property taxes go into the public treasury, therefore, public use.

    Yep, it's just that easy.

  • WoodChipperBob||

    The problem is, you're not reading it like a statist. It says that you can't take private property for public use without just compensation. It doesn't say anything that says that you can't take private property for *private* use, whether justly compensated or not. Reading it like a statist means if it doesn't say you can't do it, you can do it and if it says you can't do it, you need to find a good reason to ignore the part that says you can't do it.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Honestly, its kind of why I am against public roads being turned over to private parties for tolls or whatever. The land to build the roads was likely seized via eminent domain. To turn it over to private parties makes the road not controlled by the public anymore which would violate the 5th Amendment's language of "taken for public use".

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If private parties want to buy the land to build a road using free market then that's fine to build a private toll road.

    We all know the government is not great at most things. Roads, national defense, and the courts are just things that government performing that duty is probably better because they are not there to create a buck.

  • Elston G||

    Whose side did you take when it came to a foreign transnational globalist Corporation using eminent domain to take ranchers and landowners property in Texas and Nebraska?
    The foreign globalist corporation?
    Or the ranchers and landowners?

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Is that a serious question?

  • Elston G||

    The Corporation that benefited from eminent domain didn't donate to the politicians campaign fund that signed off on the taking?

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    You suck as a shill.

  • libertynugget||

    Property rights are hilarious.
    You think you're free, but then you need to cut down a dying tree in the city of Atlanta, and you realize just how much of your property you own.

    I feel like joining an HOA so I can pay them to tell me what I can and can't do with my house.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Because of taxes and local overregulation, you're simply renting your land from the state (and City of Atlanta in your case).

    If you owe the government money or piss them off, they can try and seize your land or parts of it.

  • Nardz||

    What's with all the GA people posting here?
    You'd think we might have a shot of getting some stuff (not) done locally.
    My vote is for legalized gambling so we can get that casino...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I suspect Georgian Libertarians have seen Democrats destroy the United States and Republicans heading that way, so we have found a better way.

    Some Georgians are working on legalized casino gambling...again.

  • libertynugget||

    I blame Neal Boortz who (at least in the 90's/early 2000's) touted libertarianism on WSB... Then as he got older he was more about hating Democrats/Progressives/Liberals.

  • Philippe Lacoude||

    I had to look it up... This is crazy!
    http://www.atlantaga.gov/?navid=982

  • Rhywun||

    nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation

    Am I crazy or did even allowing eminent domain in the first place inevitably lead to rampant abuse? Not only that, even the so-called "acceptable" uses of it typically "hurt[...] the most vulnerable and least politically connected Americans" as much as any cronyism.

    It just seems like a mistake to me.

  • MichaeI Hihn||

    I agree. It's remarkable that law may be the best argument that human language is subjective.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Except the second amendment, right?

  • sarcasmic||

    I do think there are legitimate uses for eminent domain. But like any power, it will always be abused.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The main legitimate use of eminent domain is to serve as an example of feudal tyranny.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Or to build roads.

    Tomato-Tomatoe

  • Elston G||

    Or for For Profit Pipelines for foreign transnational corporations.

  • sarcasmic||

    You think you own your land? Try not paying property taxes rent to your local municipality. Then tells me who owns the land.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    The Glorious Collective owns everything! You didn't build that! All your properties are belong to us!

  • Elston G||

    Funny. This article and the egregious cases of eminent domain don't benefit the "collective".
    They all benefit for-profit corporate interests.
    You seem to be a apologist for corporate fascism and kind of a donor class toady.
    Whose side did you take in Nebraska and Texas when farmers, ranchers and landowners chose not to sell to a foreign for-profit globalist transnational Corporation?
    American ranchers and landowners in Texas and Nebraska?
    Or the foreign transnational?

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Hey, dipshit, do you know why crony capitalism is a non sequitur?

  • ||

    'Are we free?' Les Nessman.

    It's interesting a conspiratorial incompetent newsman said this. Looking back, he was right.

    "And as if Kelo's losing her home weren't punishing enough, the saga continued after the ruling. Once Pfizer exhausted the subsidies that the city used to attract it to New London, it moved again, to collect subsidies elsewhere—leaving behind a vacant lot where the Little Pink House once stood."

    Jesus. You can't get more evil than this.

    Who were the justices that voted in favor? Everyone involved who conspired against the people - one can hope karma does exist because you want to believe in 'what comes around'.

  • DatCrazyMongoose||

    The Wikipedia article barely scratches the surface of the case. I think some editors who are knowledgeable need to make it the most robust part of the New London wiki page.

  • Gary T||

    I wrote an article about this a few years back:

    Eminent Domain – a Truly Tri-Partisan Issue
    www.nolanchart.com/article7047.....issue-html

  • Gary T||

    The first salvo launched by the courts was to casually introduce the terms "public purpose" and "public welfare" as synonymous and interchangeable with the actual law's constrained mandate "public use", see Berman v. Parker 348 U.S. 26.

    In Berman the question was whether a eminent domain could be imposed where a municipality planned to eliminate slums and urban blight, notwithstanding its ultimate usage. The Court ruled that it could.

    (Being 1952, the Berman decision came down during the decade after World War II, a time of great optimism about the power of government. Utilizing federal funds, cities were embarking on massive urban renewal efforts.)

    By committing Constitutional heresy, these alternate, more inclusive, terms were canonized as being equivalent – the rights that had been protected, and the prerequisites that had been required by the Constitution for asserting eminent domain, were mooted, and easily side-stepped.

    But of course the issue could past muster under such a standard; the only problem is that the Constitution does not provide such latitude. As Justice Thomas observed in his dissent:

    "This deferential shift in phraseology [from "public use" to "public purpose"] enables the Court to hold, against all common sense, that a costly urban-renewal project whose stated purpose is a vague promise of new jobs and increased tax revenue, but which is also suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation."

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yup. Thanks for the good analysis.

  • Philippe Lacoude||

    "Refusing to entertain even the possibility that eminent domain might be defensible, the movie desires no discussion. All it wants is our sympathy." Jeannette Catsoulis (The New York Times)
    https://goo.gl/gVD7N4

    :-) :-) :-)

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Haha. I came to post that. What an absolute sour grape that woman is.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    The film doesn't go after eminent domain in general (although eminent domain is terrible and makes legal recourse to challenge it more almost futile); the film depicts a gross injustice against an individual, and Catsoulis can't compute the tyranny. Or, she sees the facts undermine the legitimacy of her beloved big govt, and is playing D. The only play in her book (hopefully) is trash the film, but in my worthless opinion, not honestly.

    I've essentially taken the quasi-psychoanalytical approach that passive-aggressive left-wing snarks like to employ to convince themselves they are all wise and knowing about how and what their political opponents think, and how that thinking will be affects by words, images, etc. In actual fact, I really have no idea what Jeanette's thinking was, and ultimately she may sympathise with Kelo's case. Perhaps she is just toeing the line for the NYT which historically has been anti-Kelo and defended the bureacratic wrecking ball that destroyed her house. Her piece doesn't reveal any sympathy and it's possible her response to the film is somewhat contrarian, based on a a dissonance it creates for her. I have no way of telling, but her closing remark that eminent domain may be "defensible" suggests she has- ARGH i'm bored and feel myself going round in verbose circles, spiraling into the vortex of my own proverbial fundament. That's what this critiquing the critics does to you, in the mental gymnastic masturbatory style of the lefty arts hack.

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