On February 22nd, the future of property rights in America will be at stake as the Supreme Court begins oral arguments in the case of Kelo v. New London. The central question at issue is: should the government be able to use its power of eminent domain to seize property from one private party and transfer it to another?
The seven property owners on the side of Kelo are the last remaining of more than 70 families whose homes and businesses were targeted for demolition several years ago by the city of New London, Connecticut, to make room for a 90-acre private development. The story of one of the owners, Susette Kelo, is representative. Kelo, a nurse, bought and painstakingly restored a home that initially was so run-down that she needed to cut her way to the front door with a hatchet. After she had achieved her dream home, she was informed in November 2000 by the local government that her home was condemned, and ordered to vacate within 90 days. She and the other owners remain in their homes only by the grace of a court order, which prevents eviction and demolition until their appeals are exhausted.
What justifies this treatment of Kelo and the other owners, who simply want to be free to live on their own property? The seizures and transfers, the government says, are in “the public interest”–because they will lead to more jobs for New London residents and more tax dollars for the government. This type of justification was given more than 10,000 times between 1998 and 2002, and across 41 states, to use eminent domain (or its threat) to seize private property. The attitude behind these seizures was epitomized by a Lancaster, CA, city attorney explaining why a 99