Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Kelo v. New London: state-sponsored theft.

Wilhelmina Dery has lived in the same house since she was born in 1918. Her husband moved in with her when they got married in 1946; the house itself has been in the Dery family for over a century. Now, the government of New London, CT has decided that they want to turn Mrs. Dery's ancestral home into a parking lot, citing economic interests. What's worse, the United States Supreme Court has said that it's legal.


Kelo v. New London has made a stir in legal circles lately because it is a landmark decision. In it, the Supremes said that it was alright for a community (in this case, New London) to condemn and take over property held by parties who did not want to sell, all because a group of developers (the New London Development Corporation) had come up with a "carefully considered" plan to revitalize the area. In other words, the United States Supreme Court has said that because a few moneyed interests thought that a few parcels of land had more economic value to the community as parking lots and offices, then those parcels (some of which were occupied by private individuals) were subject to eminent domain, which allows a government to take control of private property in the public interest.

It doesn't matter that Susette Kelo has lived in her house since 1997 and has renovated and improved it since that time. It doesn't matter that she held onto it because she liked the waterfront view. This is not even disputed in Justice Stevens' majority opinion on the case. All that matters is that Susette Kelo, Wilhelmina Dery, and other men and women like them hold property that the city has decided it wants in order to bring about some project which will ostensibly bring in new jobs and provide economic growth in a disadvantaged area. Since these holdouts decided not to take the city's original offers to sell their property, they are now being forced out.

To add insult to injury, the city of New London has claimed that since the Supreme Court decision went in their favor, they have owned the land in question via the power of eminent domain since 2000, which was when the first suit was filed to stop this process. Following the most greedy possible logic, the city asserts that those living on this land owe the city back rent on the property for the period between 2000 and the present. Given the valuations that the city has slapped onto the properties at question, this means that even the sums originally offered as "fair market value" are inadequate to cover the cost of these rents.

Remember Mrs. Dery? Her home was valued at some $6100 per month for a total debt of over $300,000. That the city had originally condemned the property solely to get its hands on it seems not to be an extenuating circumstance. Such is the rule of law; I suppose we must call it that, since it certainly isn't justice.


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