In 2005, Susette Kelo lost her house to the government. Thanks to her fight, many Americans don't face the same threat.

(Excerpts from Oct 30/14 National post)

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court issued one of its most disappointing decisions of that decade: It ruled that the government of New London, Conn., could legally expropriate the home of a woman named Susette Kelo in order to transfer the property to the New London Development Corporation, a quasi-public institution that wanted to develop the land to attract investment by the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. Because of the potential for “economic development” (and more tax revenue for the town), using the land to entice Pfizer’s business was deemed an acceptable “public use” under the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

Very positive property-protection measures eventually emerged in 44 states as a backlash against the decision. The actions of so many U.S. activists, politicians, citizens and lawyers to protect against expropriation abuse are Ms. Kelo’s proud legacy — and the legacy of the Institute for Justice (IJ), the libertarian public interest law firm that represented her and never gave up sounding the alarm about the misuses of “eminent domain,” as government land expropriation power is known south of the border.

But we have something to gain by recalling the sense of powerlessness we, and no doubt Ms. Kelo herself, felt so profoundly when the “corporate fat cats” and “city hall” emerged victorious in 2005 — when we watched a working-class nurse lose the little pink riverfront home she’d laboured on with her own hands as the government sought to ingratiate itself to a huge multinational corporation.

It was a moment of impotence. It reminds us just how forcefully a single “tiny” government action can change an entire life forever, and of how that change can destroy the sense of agency and control over one’s own destiny that motivates people to live productive lives — or just get out of bed in the morning. It shows we mustn’t allow exhaustive calculations about the greater public good to insulate us from appreciating the devastating effects well-meaning legislation can have on individual human beings.

 

“We went through hell with this legal fight and in the end, we lost our homes and the view that we loved so much,” Susette Kelo says. “But our battle helped unite the country and put the issue of eminent domain on the map. We hope this movie will inspire people to finish the job, to change the laws across the country and to ensure that no one has to go through what we went through.”

National Post

Marni Soupcoff is executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, theccf.ca

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that the expropriated land was transferred to the New London Development Corporation to be developed with Pfizer, but not directly to Pfizer itself.

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