The Legacy of Kelo v. New London is a Vacant Lot

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There is nothing that illustrates bad law more than equally bad results. We have had an illustration of this recently that has been mostly overlooked. It shouldn’t be.

The utterly nonsensical Supreme Court ruling ‘Kelo v. New London’ demonstrates what happens when the principles that this nation was founded upon are abrogated and dispensed with. Although rooted in a sound philosophical basis they reveal their greater truth in the practical application of those principles, or as in this case, lack thereof.


The purported ultimate purpose of using eminent domain to condemn the property of law abiding home and small business owners in the city of New London was to augment the city tax coffers, to the benefit of the community, via the increased economic activity the condemned land would bring. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer had planned to expand its business operations there with an accompanying business complex that was intended to expand the tax base of the city. As is so often the case, especially for government, things did not work out as planned.

The economic meltdown in the fall of 2008, foreseen by so few, altered the business landscape within which the Kelo v. New London fiasco took place. The economic climate that led to the projection by Pfizer of the need to expand its business facilities melted away as well.

Today, where once stood the proud homes and businesses of U.S. citizens, there is a vacant lot. The longed for tax revenues that the city hoped to garner vanished along with the plans for business expansion, when in November 2009 Pfizer announced it was abandoning the project on account of the severely weakened economy.

Then, in February 2010, as has been reported in HawaiiReporter, the company decided to pull its research headquarters out of New London with a reported loss approaching 1500 jobs. The company also announced its intention to abandon the condemned property leaving the city of New London with 90 acres of unused land and metaphorical egg on its face.

The practical side of this is that the city of New London, in its craving to ever expand its tax base, has lost even the taxes that it was previously collecting. (What is that saying about a bird in the hand? Or was that about killing some goose? Oh, never mind.)

The “mere” philosophical issue of the rights of property owners to be safe and secure in the ownership of their property is seen, in the final analysis, to be more than just a philosophical exercise. As a practical matter it concerns and affects the very life and livelihood of individual citizens, which was the precise intent and purpose of the constitution and the Bill of Rights in the first place.

The city and citizens of New London are now in a worse circumstance than they were prior to the designs and actions of the city fathers (and I use this term loosely). While Pfizer is to some degree at fault it cannot be blamed since it was the responsibility of the elected city officials to look out for the rights and interests of all the citizens of the city, including those who already possessed homes and businesses in the coveted area.

This last is the very point which is at the core of the idea and ideal of individual rights. You cannot sacrifice the rights of some now in order to gain them for others in the future. By sacrificing those values today you have already offset and lost those that are to be sought in some distant tomorrow. This is the failure of all Utopian schemes.

What ‘Kelo v. New London’ makes so clear is this very failure. The cherished home of Suzette Kelo was destroyed by a collective government fantasy. That the Supreme Court of this nation ruled in favor of this is yet a greater travesty since it was the clear intent and purpose of establishing the court to prevent and thwart just such violations of individual property rights by government fiat. The failure is evident in the actual, concrete, ugly result.

These are perilous times for this nation. Decades of collectivist doctrine have been espoused, promulgated and absorbed by the people, with disastrous consequences. In classical economics they are known as “unintended consequences” but are the inevitable outcome of attempting to “spread the wealth around,” as it is known in common parlance.

We, as a civil society and as a nation, cannot relinquish, surrender, abandon nor shirk the founding principles that made this nation great without doing tremendous damage to ourselves and our nation. The practical result, an empty lot, is what awaits us as a nation if we forget or neglect this fact. It is only by adhering to those principles through the rule of law, not whims, that we prevent this nation from becoming a vacant lot, in its entirety.

‘Don Newman lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado and can be reached at’