The day we lost the 5th amendment

little-pink-house

In 2005 the Supreme Court of the United States by a 5 to 4 vote in a case called Kelo versus City of New London, upheld the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling that the city of New London Connecticut could seize by force the homes, in an area called Fort Trumbull in New London . It’s just a little peninsula that sticks out into the river by the shore. They could seize the homes there and turn them over to the Pfizer Corporation for a regional job center and science center sender there were going to build. They needed the city to condemn all the private property there by using the concept of “eminent domain,” so they could have his prime peninsula jutting out into the water for their “campus”.

Mrs. Kelo had lived in that house since she was little girl, and another family Chris Navarro’s, and five other nearby property owners sued because, under the Fifth Amendment the government is barred from taking private property by force unless it is for a “public use” and there is just compensation. Now historically public use meant if they were going to take your house for a road, a bridge, a school, utility right-of-way, etc. A government purpose as defined in the Constitution. Economic development was not defined in the Constitution, in other words, seizing your land because the city fathers believed that there was another developer who would give them more property tax revenue from that land, was not a concept inherent in the Constitution.

Until the 5 to 4 vote then the legislating judges (not a power they have according to the constitution) determined, that in fact, generating new jobs and increased revenue was a sufficient “public use” to fit within the stretching of the Fifth Amendment.

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”[1]

This is a travesty of the Constitution, favoring developers in ripping off people’s homes, to give land to that developer who in turn makes campaign contributions to help you get reelected is not what the Fifth Amendment is about.

I bring it up because you need to know the rest of the story. Today that land on Fort Trumbull point, this little peninsula sticking out into the water is bare. There is still a road, that all the houses used to be on, the land has been scraped and weeds are now overgrowing Trumbull point.

Pfizer is nowhere to be seen. They decided not to build the building. The city of New London now doesn’t have the neighborhood, doesn’t have the property tax revenue from those houses, and doesn’t have the Pfizer jobs or the so called increase in property tax coming in.

Mrs. Kelo, the Navarro’s and the rest of these folks who lost their constitutional protection don’t have their homes anymore either.


[1] The federal courts have not restrained state and local governments from seizing privately owned land for private commercial development on behalf of private developers. This was upheld on June 23, 2005, when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Kelo v. City of New London. This 5–4 decision remains controversial. The majority opinion, by Justice Stevens, found that it was appropriate to defer to the city’s decision that the development plan had a public purpose, saying that “the city has carefully formulated a development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including, but not limited to, new jobs and increased tax revenue.” Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion observed that in this particular case the development plan was not “of primary benefit to … the developer” and that if that was the case the plan might have been impermissible. In the dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued that this decision would allow the rich to benefit at the expense of the poor, asserting that “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.” She argued that the decision eliminates “any distinction between private and public use of property—and thereby effectively delete[s] the words ‘for public use’ from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment”. A number of states, in response to Kelo, have passed laws and/or state constitutional amendments which make it more difficult for state governments to seize private land. Takings that are not “for public use” are not directly covered by the doctrine, however such a taking might violate due process rights under the Fourteenth amendment, or other applicable law.

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