Free Minds & Free Markets

Stossel: Little Pink House

The story of how the government can take your home against your will.

Susette Kelo bought a run-down home. She fixed it up and painted it pink. Then the government came and took it.

"Eminent Domain" has long allowed politicians to grab your property to build roads, railroad tracks, a border wall–anything they claim is for "public use." But they wanted Kelo's house so they could give the property to a private developer. Is that right?

A new movie called "Little Pink House" tells the story of how Susette fought for her home, all the way to the Supreme Court.

Eventually she lost her case, and her home.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor explained the problem in her dissent, writing, "nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

The decision alarmed people across America. Some states passed laws limiting their politicians right to grab your property.

Several years after the Supreme Court's decision, John Stossel went with Susette to look at the place where her home used to stand, where politicians had said "the tax-paying development" would be. There was nothing there, just unused land. Even today, 13 years later, there's still no development. The politicians were wrong. Susette and others lost their homes anyway.

Stossel says this new movie, "The Little Pink House," which comes out at the end of the month, is a good reminder of just how powerful, and wrong, politicians often are.

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel, his independent production company, Stossel Productions, and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

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.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Remember Kelo's majority opinion came from Justice John Paul Stevens, who recently told us that Second Amendment rights mean no more to him than property rights. These are the kinds of people to whom we entrust finally our civil liberties.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Christ, what an asshole.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    And the same group who read that getting shot to death by police without warning violates no constitutional rights.

  • Joe_JP||

    Stevens recently told us we should amend the Constitution to repeal the Second Amendment, which he argued (backed up by a lot of history) was about a specific thing, the individual right to own a firearm for self-defense a separate matter.

    Meanwhile, he over and over again defending our civil liberties in a range of ways. One way was property rights, including in Moore v. City of East Cleveland where he specifically argued property rights protected a grandmother's right to live with her grandson. He repeatedly also protected property rights in the Fourth Amendment context.

    The Fifth Amendment limits the reach of government power over property -- the government gets to "take" property with proper compensation for a public use. One was present here. It might have been a bad policy, but that wasn't his role. There is no exception for homes. We can make one up, I guess.

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

  • Libertymike||

    It doesn't provide that property can be taken without the consent of the owner. Given that the language is not exactly a paragon of clarity, why should Stevens, the big government progressive parasite that he was, indulge the state with the power to do so?

    The supposed source of the power is in the bill of rights, not Article I.

  • Joe_JP||

    Justice Thomas did not deny that the government could -- without permission -- take property without consent of the owner in various cases, including under power of eminent domain. Is he a parasite too?

    The source of power here was the state police power. If it was the federal government, it would be some enumerated power or necessary/proper application of it. Such as seizing property, including homes, to build a military base. The Taking Clauses restrains the power by requiring just compensation.

  • Libertymike||

    Justice Thomas has spent almost, if not all, of his adult life in the public sector. That says a lot about a man's character.

    Nevertheless, I will acknowledge, that since his appointment, he is the justice who comes closest to abiding by the constitution.

    I have read his dissent. I am aware that he did not challenge the indulgent read that the judiciary has consistently given to the eminent domain clause. I emphasize indulgent because the source of the power is set forth in the Bill of Rights, not Article I and because the language is not a paragon of unambiguity. The better approach would be to recognize that the language is not unequivocal, that it appears in the Bill of Rights, and that in construing the constitution, no power is to be impliedly granted to the government.

    The so-called police power of the states is a judicial construction. It is not a power that was specifically set forth in the original constitutions of the colonies.

  • Joe_JP||

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

    This is a limit on power, not a grant of power, though there is an implication there is an existing power of some sort. The same applies to the Due Process Clause. It doesn't by itself grant the power to deprive people of life, liberty and property. There has to be some power elsewhere that does so & once that is in place, it has to be done with "due process."

    The Tenth Amendment holds that if it is not otherwise delegated to the federal government or barred from the states, power is retained by the states or the people. The basic power of the states to govern, the police power, is granted by state constitutions. It is not merely some judicial construct.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Transferring ownership from one private entity to another is NOT public use no matter how much you desire it to be.

  • Joe_JP||

    If the transfer is an aspect of some public use, be it a public road, economic development or any number of other things, it is a public use.

    It also is not what I 'desire' a such but what the law has long recognized.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Economic development is NOT public use. This is the same faulty reasoning as Wickard which claims that even though his actions were explicitly NOT interstate commerce, it could influence future interstate commerce so therefore it's interstate commerce. Reasoning like that has no limits because it lacks any self-consistency.

    Just repeating "public use" over and over again doesn't make it public. Was the project owned by the public? No. Was the entity a regulated monopoly such as a utility? No. That makes it private and not public by definition.

  • Cyto||

    Yes... this is what the discussion above was missing... it isn't about giving permission, the whole crux was that the Kelo decision changed the law from "for public use" to "for reasons we deem acceptable". So they took her home to give it to their cronies.

    For most of us this is a clear violation of black letter constitutional law. Exactly the same as saying you can't grow food on your own property for your own use is a clear and obvious violation of the constitution in Wickard.

    These cases aren't even close decisions... if you can't see that not selling wheat on the interstate market is not interstate commerce, I can't really help you. Similarly, if you can't see that taking someone's home so that you can give it to someone else to build a shopping mall is not public use, I can't help you. It seems as obvious to me as "water is wet". And pushing it off to "this is for the legislature to decide" is just feckless. They certainly wouldn't react that way if this were a free speech case... would they?

    No, really... please tell me they wouldn't decide a free speech case on these same criteria.. please!

  • flyfishnevada||

    Yeah, I can't see how taking land and giving it to a developer is public use. Economic development is not a public use. Broadening the tax base is not a public use. I suppose if I could walk into the mall they build and take home what I wanted for free, occupy the home or condo rent free or get a check in the mail from the county clerk for my share of the tax revenue, it might be considered a "public use." All I see is a developer getting richer with the help of politicians and those politicians broadening their power base. Each are the opposite of public use.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Since when is transferring ownership from one private entity to another "public use?" And his "lot of history" was a lot of nothing. His argument was as paper thin as his intellect.

  • Joe_JP||

    If it was so easy to refute the opinion of five justices (loyal to years of precedent) and the lower court which they upheld, perhaps personal insults can be seen as gratuitous.

    If a road is provided for the general public, the fact that a private entity owns it does not by itself remove the "public use" aspect of said road. Private ownership itself is not the deciding factor here.

    The government used private parties as a means here ("The city council approved the plan in January 2000, and designated the NLDC as its development agent in charge of implementation.") to promote economic development for the good of the public.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    What are you babbling about? What years of precedent? Was this a road? No, this was a private development that served a "public good" through economic development. That is an absurd ruling.

    Gratuitous boot licking is far more concerning that gratuitous insults.

  • Joe_JP||

    The years of precedent can be found in the state court and Supreme Court opinions.

    You cited a rule. The road is a hypothetical used to challenge the rule.

    The government, the public, took property here for public use, economic development.

    Like they hypothetical road, private ownership itself doesn't erase said public use.

    No 'boot-licking" is evident here as far as I can tell.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Public use != whatever I want.

    This entity was not owned by the public. This was not a monopoly regulated by the public.

    "Like they hypothetical road, private ownership itself doesn't erase said public use."

    Define public vs. private. It's pretty clear that you can't.

    "No 'boot-licking" is evident here as far as I can tell."


  • Paper Wasp||

    economic development for the good of the public

    There would have to be some proof that this was "for the good of the public" for that to wash. There was none presented in Kelo. It was simply a baseless assumption of the assenting justices that economic development = good, with zero accounting of how and to what degree.

  • hardcorps||

    Stevens even said it didn't matter if the economic development made sense financially or not, only that the govt agency doing the takings thought it made sense.

  • marshaul||

    Frankly I don't give a damn if a reprehensible law has all the textual and precedential support in the world. Unless law has the capacity to define morality (in which case slavery was a moral good, which is an absurd and itself reprehensible conclusion) then every law must always be judged against preexisting moral standards, and immoral laws must be actively disobeyed.

    By any external moral standard, the Kelo decision is reprehensible, and therefore so are apologists for it, like Joe_JP here. Personally, I don't associate in any capacity with such individuals. Not professionally, not socially, not rhetorically.

  • kevinq||

    this is why the founders gave us jury nullification. Spread the word.

  • Mr. Dyslexic||

    Cite one USSC case where a jury rendered a verdict or nullification.

  • flyfishnevada||

    "...[government] to promote economic development for the good of the public."

    That, sir, is an oxymoron if I've ever heard one. Like so many things, economic development doesn't come from the government. I worked in transportation and saw government spending tax dollars to help well-connected developers get access to their private developments in the name of the public good. I found it as offensive then and I do now. There is a fine line between building roads to serve public needs and building roads to serve certain members of the public. Too many politicians and planners not only blur that line but pretend it doesn't exist at all.

  • Tionico||

    but building the project the private development company who demanded Kelo's home is NOT "public use". That would be for things like government facilities, roads to be used by anyone, port and military facilities, and such. The project in view would simply convert one form of private use (Mrs. Kelo's residence) to another form of private use (retail stores and other residences). None of those are "public use", although more people would be walking through the KMart putatively there than through Mrs. Kelo's livingroom. But that does not make it PUBLIC USE. It only means public have more access than if it remained Mrs. Kelo's home.

  • Just Say'n||

    This was one of Sanda Day O'Connor's best dissents. Right up there with Raich v. Ashcroft. She went out with a bang in those last two years

  • Jerryskids||

    Kelo may have lost her case and her home, but we all lost a great deal more than that.

  • tommhan||

    Exactly, it was a depressing loss.

  • Joe_JP||

    Yes, like there can be bad wars, there can be bad use of eminent domain.

    It is up to us all to keep track of the details here, making sure local governments in particular don't act in bad ways.

    Legitimate use of power doesn't mean good use of power.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    making sure local governments in particular don't act in bad ways...

    By making them get permission from the Supreme Court to act in bad ways, no doubt.

  • Joe_JP||

    There are various ways, including elected good people, state laws and constitutional rules that are stricter than the currently understood federal rules in place to check bad actions here.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Or actually applying the constitution instead of this perversion of a ruling. Moving the ownership of the land from one private entity to another is not a "public use."

  • Joe_JP||

    [1] The little pink house here could have been seized to build a courthouse or something. If so, that limit wouldn't help much. Thus, the need of other checks.

    [2] If the land is used for public use, private ownership alone doesn't change that. Cases going back to the 19th Century says as much.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    [1] It wasn't. So aside from being completely irrelevant to the case, good point?

    [2] How is a private development public use? No matter how hard you clap, Tinkerbell isn't flying.

  • Joe_JP||

    [1] The original discussion broadly raised concerns about the power of eminent domain, including to build "roads," so yes, I think the issue goes beyond the limits of this one case.

    [2] It is not merely private development -- as spelled out in both the state and federal opinions, reflecting an understanding of the proper reach of the Takings Clause in many states -- economic development is being promoted here for the good of the general public via a governmental created enterprise. Property taken with just compensation for public use is allowed.

    The text is not "property taken for ownership by the government and then used" or something. Private property can in various cases be used by the public.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    No it does not.

    [2] This was entirely private development. No matter how hard you try you can't get around that. What is the limit of the "proper reach" in this case, especially considering that her property became an empty lot, which is unquestionably less economic development than a house fit for occupation. This was not a government created enterprise. Again you deceive with that.

    Define public vs. private. By your definition you cannot since anything can be a "public use."

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So broadly defining public use means that property rights absolutely do not exist in the US.

  • Libertymike||

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

    In my view, the pertinent language of the 5th amendment yields an interpretation that no private property shall be taken without the consent of the owner as in order for compensation to be just it must be consensual. Note that the language does not provide that the property can be taken without the consent of the owner.

    Furthermore, given that the powers granted to Congress are enumerated and are not to be implied, why should we indulge the government with a power that is not unambiguously expressed? The eminent domain clause is set forth in the bill of rights, not Article I. Thus, structurally, it is clumsy to argue that the state has the power to take private property without the consent of the owner where the same is inartfully expressed in the bill of rights.

  • brec||

    The problem I have with the consent interpretation is the word "taken."

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    The worst part of the movie is going to be the obligatory John Mellencamp soundtrack.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Why, because having your house taken Hurts So Good?

  • Cloudbuster||

    Because it's rough having no home on those Lonely ol' Nights.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    This thread is in danger of devolving into a strawman Scarecrow.

  • Árboles de la Barranca||

    Please, not Jack and Diane and life going on.

  • Cloudbuster||

    The ironic part is that Pfizer closed down their New London operations, the development fell apart and the land has remained vacant since (at least as of 2014 and, yeah, still looks empty). What a monument to government fuckery.

  • John||

    So, Libertarians do not believe in public roads. Okay. But they also object to the use of eminent domain for private purposes. It would be very difficult to build a private road over a long distance without some form of eminent domain. You could do it, but it would be very expensive as each recalcitrant landowner either extorted a premium for his land or you were forced to snake the road in all kinds of inefficient and unnecessary ways to avoid landowners who would not sell at a reasonable price. Indeed, since the value of land next to a road is often increased, each landowner would have an incentive to hold out and force the road to go around them giving them valuable frontage space that they could then sell at a premium to someone else after the road was built.

    Libertarians forever dismiss these concerns as just one of those things and move on to lauding the wonders of private roads. Well, it isn't that simple. Private toll roads do exist, but they are generally not very long and often are built in conjunction with the government using the powers of eminent domain. I really don't think you can sensibly object to public roads and the use of eminent domain for private projects. You have to take one or the other in some circumstances.

  • Libertymike||

    The counter to those objections is what James J. Hill did in building the Great Northern Railroad.

    Hill actually paid a fair price for land held by Indians. He paid for rights of way. He paid the government to acquire land.

    His routes, unlike the routes of the publicly funded Union Pacific and Central Pacific, were more direct and shorter notwithstanding the fact that he did not use eminent domain for the construction of his railroads.

    OF course, he built his railroads without government subsidy.

    Yes, John, men are evil. Its just that evil has a better chance to thrive with TOP MEN. The more the state is involved in any endeavor, the greater the likelihood is of the dark side of human nature manifesting itself.

  • John||

    He also built them over land that was much less populated than today and could be bought from Indian tribes who were likely not very savvy business people. Good for him, but his example doesn't help us today.

    And it is not that men are evil and we need top men. It is that there is no such thing as a perfect solution or an absolute rule that is best in all circumstances. Just because government involvement is bad, doesn't mean it can't be the best of a set of bad options in some cases.

  • Libertymike||

    Agreed that there is no such thing as a perfect solution.

    Even as a hard-core libertarian, you will never read a post from me in which I say that the market is a perfect solution.

    Hill, by the way, and his business thinking and successes, make for a great read. Where he is relevant is in the contrast between how he built his railways and the way in which the subsidized lines were constructed.

    OT: doesn't the kid from Villanova, last night's star, look like a dead ringer for Josh McDaniels?

  • John||

    He looks like every one of my wife's Italian Irish cousins.

  • marshaul||

    Sorry, but the fact that a particular hypothetical private road couldn't be built without without eminent domain does not automatically justify all uses of eminent domain.

    If the concern is holdout landowners demanding extortionate prices, then a possible solution might be, for example, to have civil jury trials to sort out who is being unreasonable in a particular case.

    Not of that has anything to do with a development, much less this development.

  • IceTrey||

    In Libertopia we don't need no stinkin' roads. We have flying robot cars you order from your phone.

  • tlapp||

    If rights don't matter laws get made in favor of the highest bidder even if that bidder later goes bankrupt and never builds a house. In the meantime the person who can't buy influence "the little guy" that every politician pretends to represent is pushed out of their home.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Kind of OT, but I see the Reason disclaimer that was on Stossell's Red Pill video is not on this one.

    Reason, whats up with that ? I am genuinely curious what in the Red Pill video warranted a disclaimer.

  • silver.||

    Read the comments on the YouTube page for Stoss' Red Pill video. Ms. Owens is alleged to be a former SJW who was working to create a doxxing site called Social Autopsy that would oust the personal details of those engaged in wrongthink. Some conservatives are wary of her suddenly changing sides, and are speculating that it's a ploy to 'get behind enemy lines.' Appearing on Stossel's show on ReasonTV's YouTube page gives her a lot of credibility, so she can obtain dirt on conservatives/libertarians/whomever and oust their secret prejudices.

    So, online drama and conspiracy theories. Normal YouTube shit.

  • Tionico||

    Kelo stands amongst the most egregious and extreme violations of the content AND intent of our COnstitution. Those "just us" should all hang their miserable pates in shame.

  • The gouch||

    I know a family that this happened to back in the early '70's in Bailys crossroads, VA.. They lost their home along with several others.... It took 13 years to put a mall in there..

  • ||


  • flyfishnevada||

    One of the worst SCOTUS decisions ever. At least they left the door open to local and state governments...or rather the people through referendum since most state and local governments had little changing laws to forbid this kind of taking. Roads, bridges, schools, etc. usually, not always but usually, do serve the public good. But taking one person's property and giving it to another so they can enrich themselves and the government can take its cut? Not even close. This decision flies in the face of limited government of, by and for the people and principles of individual liberty.

  • prediksi singapore||

    Sejak kapan mentransfer kepemilikan dari satu entitas swasta ke "penggunaan publik" lainnya? Dan "banyak sejarahnya" tidak ada artinya. Argumennya setipis inteleknya.

  • prediksifajar||

    prediksi toto


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online