What do a wasteland full of weeds, Pfizer, and the Supreme Court have in common? The answer is the power of eminent domain. In the 2005 case of Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London was allowed to seize Suzette Kelo’s home and give the property to the nearby Pfizer Corporation for development. Though the statute of eminent domain does not explicitly grant the government the right to seize property for private parties like companies, the city and the Court affirmed that such was justifiable when done in the name of economic growth. In other words, Pfizer’s ability to help the economy of New London superseded Ms. Kelo’s right to live in her own home.
Over 4 years later, Pfizer has done nothing with the property handed to it by the courts — the land is overrun with weeds. Indeed, Pfizer is actually closing its facility in New London, which was to be expanded with the seizure of Ms. Kelo’s home.
Ms. Kelo’s right to her home was ideologically destroyed, and as a material consequence, so was her house. But the right to private property demands that Ms. Kelo should have been the one to decide whether to offer her house to Pfizer or to keep it. If this course of action had been followed instead of New London’s attempt to bribe the company with seized property, all parties’ rights would have been respected and Pfizer could have evaluated for itself whether or not Ms. Kelo’s property was worth the actual price or whether it would be better to build elsewhere. Instead, her home has literally been destroyed for nothing.
In a country based on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” what happened to Ms. Kelo’s liberty? It was sacrificed on the altar of the public interest with blatant disregard for her rights as an individual. This is the real cost of eminent domain: even if the city’s plan had succeeded, that would not have paid for the destruction of rights that it represents. In a country which started a revolution partly due to the disregard of the British government for private property, this is a telling example of how our country is in many ways sliding back towards the tyranny it once rejected.
While Ms. Kelo might have been its first victim, the Court’s ruling assures she will not be the last. If we want to ensure the sanctity of our property and our lives, we must morally reject the government’s authority to take it from us without our consent, on any grounds.