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Seizing Private Property in the Trump Era

A new film dramatizes the landmark Supreme Court decision on eminent domain.

Donald Trump boasted of his love for eminent domain during the 2016 presidential campaign, calling it an "absolute necessity." And the billionaire real estate developer has a long record of pushing government redevelopment agencies to seize private property to make way for his projects.

Little Pink House, a new feature film written and directed by Courtney Balaker, looks at eminent domain abuse by recounting the true story behind of an epic 2005 Supreme Court case. Though Trump is no longer directly managing his real estate business, given his authoritarian tendencies, the story depicted in the film is more relevant than ever. (Little Pink House, which stars Academy Award nominated actress Catherine Keener, was produced by Balaker's husband and creative partner, Ted, who is also a former Reason TV producer.)

Eminent domain is when the government forces the sale of private property to make way for a so-called public use. That could mean a highway, a school—or in the case of Kelo v. the City of New London, a pharmaceutical plant

In 2000, Susette Kelo was a registered nurse who had just moved into a small, pink house in a middle-class area of New London, Connecticut. Seven months later, the city announced plans to turn her Fort Trumbull neighborhood into new research facilities for the Pfizer corporation. She was told she'd need to find a new place to live.

City officials and a nonprofit economic development group claimed the new facility would bring business and jobs to the area. Kelo didn't want to sell, so the city moved to take her house by force. She joined with six other residents and sued the city on the grounds that New London's use of eminent domain was unconstitutional. The case made it to all the way to the Supreme Court. Though the city prevailed, the decision led to a public backlash, causing many states to pass new laws limiting the use of eminent domain.

When working on the script for Little Pink House, Balaker says she was inspired by Kelo's courage and humility—which Catherine Keener perfectly captured in the film. "What resonated with [Keener] was this concept of your spot," says Balaker. "When you find your place and you can really root yourself into that place and how disruptive that is to somebody to uproot you against your will."

"Apart from putting you in jail or killing you, to take away your home or your livelihood is about the most serious thing that a government can do," says Scott Bullock with the Institute for Justice, who was Kelo's lawyer all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Actress Jean Tripplehorn plays Charlotte Wells, who in the movie spearheads the initiative to forcibly take Kelo's home to build a pharmaceutical plant. Wells gives voice to all of the typical rationales for seizing private property: Creating jobs, economic revitalization, and restoring a sense of grandeur to a fallen industrial town. But don't look for any mustache twirling villains here. "Jean, had a great way of describing it—this is a very misguided woman," says Balaker. "Someone who was on the right path but then went down the very, very, wrong path to get what she wanted."

Pfizer's facility was never built in Fort Trumbull. After the city seized and bulldozed many of the homes in the area, the company walked away from the venture. Today, the site of the proposed project is a wasteland.

Balaker's film opened the Athena Film Festival this year and was screened at the Vail Film Festival where it picked up the audience award.

Produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Alexis Garcia and Alex Manning.

Dama-May - Primal Drive by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1200086
Artist: http://incompetech.com/

Consequence - Wonders by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100283
Artist: http://incompetech.com/

There Are Many Different Kinds of Love by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Source: http://chriszabriskie.com/vendaface/
Artist: http://chriszabriskie.com/

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  • WakaWaka||

    Wow- I can't believe that Trump created the ruling in Kelo v. New London. Literally Hitler

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "Eminent domain is consistent with Trump's authoritarian approach to government".

    The 5th Amendment provides for eminent domain for public purposes, making the authoritarian approach comment complete BS. The Supreme Court made the wrong decision in Kelo v. City of New London when it allowed private property to be taken and then be given to private parties.

    I love how the media has TDS when Trump does things that the SCOTUS says is constitutional and then labels Trump as more of an authoritarian than W. Bush and Obama.

    Has Trump, while President, taken or ordered any private property be taken and then given it to private parties? Didn't think so. When he does, I will be there to complain about it.

  • WakaWaka||

    ...And the liberal majority on the Court voted for Kelo v. New London. Gorsuch is unlikely to support such a ruling again

  • Calidissident||

    Are you guys incapable of seeing that no one is accusing Trump of being the first president to support eminent domain or that he's responsible for Kelo? You guys are literally employing the "But Bush did it first!" defense liberals employed whenever people criticized Obama.

  • B.P.||

    Well, the "...in the Trump Era..." title (which I assume is just auto fill for all news articles now) implies that the new administration is operating much differently than previous administrations.

  • FD||

    "The Supreme Court made the wrong decision in Kelo v. City of New London when it allowed private property to be taken and then be given to private parties."

    The wrong decision? How about the inexplicable, irrational, despicable decision? Souter couldn't have left the court soon enough.
    But then again, since it was Pfizer, I guess the court was actually ruling private property could be taken and given to quasi public parties.

  • Devastator||

    Are you joking? How much land are they going to take to build a wall to fill up the pockets of concrete and construction companies and then it will be neglected after the Trumpocracy is over?

  • esteve7||

    The irony is that Trump's justices are less likely to rule that way. Kelo was a liberal decision with that loser Kennedy as the swing vote. Fuck the liberals on the court - that is one of the worst decisions in recent memory, even worse than the Obamacare one.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Finally, something Democrats and Trump can agree on.

  • freedomlover||

    "Pfizer's facility was never built in Fort Trumbull. After the city seized and bulldozed many of the homes in the area, the company walked away from the venture. Today, the site of the proposed project is a wasteland."

    Isn't that grounds for a perfectly good civil lawsuit right there? Isn't that enough for the displaced to sue New London and their partners for this taking for a cause that never materialized? The burden of proof isn't that high.

  • Johnimo||

    The problem is the damage is already done. Susan Kelo probably (eventually) accepted the money they gave her for her home and "moved on" with her life. What's the point of the suit? Get them to rebuild your house out in the wasteland? It's a clear cut case of Paradise Lost.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Wait till more of America's shitholes start seizing private property in the name of building a new Ford Windstar plant or something else that peaked in 1989.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Scott Adams over at Dilbert is worried about folks perceiving Trump as a National Socialist. But here's what Hitler wrote into his party program in 1920:
    "17. We demand land reform suited to our national needs, creation of a law providing for expropriation without compensation of land for common purposes..." So long comes The Don saying "eminent domain is an absolute necessity"
    Is it any wonder the parallels seem ominous?? Even in Austria there are movements forming to dispense with parasitical socialist bureaucracies and absolutist looter taxation. With a perfectly straight face looter media there refer to the organizers as "State rejectionists" and tarbrush them with kettle-black epithets while urging violent repression. Perhaps a German-language version of Dilbert could help popularize the notion that it isn't fascism when WE do it.

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  • garyhitemp||

    One of the things that surprises me the most about Libertarians is the large percentage of Libertarins who are not libertarian. What has surprised me the most about "Trump-Hitler" is how libertarian his actual governance has been.

    I would suggest Trump-Hitler's critics, certain Libertarians, and also those who are personally libertarian go to Adam's Delbert website to study his posts...especially those concerning propaganda techniques.

    T-H critics and some of you Libertarians (you know who you are) might want to keep a bucket of water handy in case you burst into flames while reading.

  • garyhitemp||

    One of the things that surprises me the most about Libertarians is the large percentage of Libertarins who are not libertarian. What has surprised me the most about "Trump-Hitler" is how libertarian his actual governance has been.

    I would suggest Trump-Hitler's critics, certain Libertarians, and also those who are personally libertarian go to Adam's Delbert website to study his posts...especially those concerning propaganda techniques.

    T-H critics and some of you Libertarians (you know who you are) might want to keep a bucket of water handy in case you burst into flames while reading.

  • Devastator||

    Almost nothing he's done is "libertarian" 1. Going back on Free Trade Agreements 2. Persecuting immigrants 3. Showing religious preference by constantly harping on Muslims 4. Continuing the war on drugs and appointing a dinosaur who thinks pot is almost as bad as heroin 5. Calling for a bigger military to invade other countries. 6. Warhawking it over in the middle east. I could go on for quite a while, but I have life to get back to.

  • ||

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