This was a case in which the court affirmed the right of the city of New London, Connecticut, to use eminent domain in order to take a bunch of private land, including dwellings, for a development whose main beneficiaries would be large private corporations, chiefly the drug corporation Pfizer. New London argued, and got the eminent justices of the Supreme Court to agree, that even though the development itself was primarily a private venture, it would have sufficient benefit to the city as a whole to qualify as “public use” under the relevant clause of the Constitution.
The decision elicited massive opposition across the country, with some states and cities rushing to pass laws preventing this type of abuse, as they saw it, of eminent domain. It even led one wag in New Hampshire to try and claim Justice David Souter’s house under eminent domain so that he could turn it into a “Lost Liberty Hotel.”
So, four years later, how has this decision worked out? Take a look.
As this Wall Street Journal piece notes, the one good thing to come out of this is “that it transformed eminent domain from an arcane government power into a major concern of voters who suddenly wonder if their own homes are at risk.”
I wonder if Susette Kelo and her fellow plaintiffs take any consolation from that. Somehow, i doubt it.
Simple answer: require Pfizer and the other corporate beneficiaries to reimburse the City of New London the difference between the actual financial benefit to the city and the benefit Pfizer and company claimed the development would provide.
'Course, you’d have to have made that part of the deal beforehand.
I’m about as far from being a conservative as you can get but I never liked that decision. Eminent domain should be used to directly benefit the public and not as a tool the government–in its role as a subservient lackey–uses to benefit the interests of large corporations like Pfizer.
Kelo sucks, I completely disapprove of the thinking behind public-private partnerships, and I have a generally positive feeling towards the concept of absolute right over your private property (with a few exceptions)
it’s kind of a catch-22. what exactly is a down-on-its-luck city supposed to do? if jobs are leaving in spades for lower tax areas, which further bashes their tax revenue base, they’re almost held hostage by these big shiny corporations. if New London demanded these guarantees that Pfizer stick around for x years or pay retroactive taxes, they would say “thanks, but no thanks” and go to the next down-on-its luck municipality who would give them what they want.
again, Kelo sucks, but we should also be inquiring as to why cities are forced to effectively sell their souls and give out cushy tax incentives in order for them to properly run the city.
Rumor_Watkins - it isn’t the tax incentives, it was taking away someone’s home for the supposed public benefit of the new construction that pissed people off.
People can live with eminent domain for a highway, or a port, or an airport - those are seen as public goods. However, when the definition is stretched to mean that it is a public benefit to provide space for the HQ of a corporation, it pisses people off.
The Left Wing of the Court let the people down on this one, IMHO.
Yes, but Pfizer was promised a pretty-pretty building in a nice part of town (geographically). That’s where the people lived.
In order for that to work, they had to take the homes. Like I said, Kelo sucks, but the OP and his clipped quote indicate that he is enjoying the turnabout happening to New London with Pfizer skipping town once the tax breaks wear off.
I’m just taking a more global approach to this - cities are sometimes forced into a rock and a hard place and typically the small citizen will get squeezed. sucks for the citizen, but it also sucks that the city had to do this.
Pfizer did build their shiny new complex and bring in thousands of jobs, AIUI. The problem is that now they’re taking them away again hoping that some other shitwater city will offer them a tax break big enough to offset the cost of another shiny new complex.
Do you not recognize anger and resignation when you see it? Did you think my “fucking awesome” comment was truly intended to convey satisfaction?
My whole point in starting this thread was to reaffirm how fucked up the decision was, and to point out that it hasn’t even turned out the way that Pfizer and the New London council promised. Even if it had turned out well, and Pfizer did bring long-term prosperity to New London, i would still think the decision a bad one, on principle. But now that it has turned into an unmitigated disaster, i think it provides a salutary lesson in why we should not expand the notion of “public use” to encompass land grabs for unaccountable private corporations.
Let me make this clear: i’m not opposed to the general principle of eminent domain. It is a necessary mechanism, and one that is employed in basically every single developed nation. There are times when the need for public infrastructure of one sort or another justified the need to exercise the government right of purchase (with adequate compensation) over private property.
But i believe that this power should be restricted to fairly strict and narrow definitions of “public use,” and should be restricted largely (perhaps exclusively) to cases where the general public and their elected officials are the ones held accountable for justifying the program. While some public use projects inevitably provide opportunities for private profit and broader economic development (indeed, that is one of the rationales behind eminent domain), we should avoid situations where the most immediate beneficiary of eminent domain is a private corporation, and the “public use” benefits are as secondary and tenuous as they were in the New London case.
By the logic of the Kelo v. New London case, if i decide that i want the store on that busy corner over there, and can make a case to the council that my store will be more successful, and provide more jobs and tax revenue, than the business that currently occupies the space, they should exercise eminent domain and hand the store over to me. It opens up the whole principle of eminent domain beyond a reasonable definition of “public use,” and begins to encompass a definition that basically says, “If i can prove i’ll provide more public benefit from using that land than you will, i should be able to take it from you.” And that’s bullshit, in my opinion.
No. Pfizer just merged with Wyeth, and the new merged company is downsizing redundant properties.
Which I know from a whole bunch of friends who work for Pfizer in St. Louis… for about 6 more months. They’re closing down their location here, because Wyeth had another facility elsewhere that duplicated capabilities here.
Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit was decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan. It never went to the United States Supreme Court.
Furthermore, in 2004, a year before Kelo v. New London, the Michigan Supreme Court effectively overturned Poletown v. Detroit in its County of Wayne v. Hathcock decision. In fact, in his Kelo dissent, Justic Stevens explicitly referred to Wayne v. Hathcock in support of his argument against the majority.