Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jeff Benedict and Little Pink House

This afternoon I had the pleasure of hearing writer Jeff Benedict speak about his book, Little Pink House, which is the story behind the Kelo v. New London case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. That case, which ruled that New London did have the right to use eminent domain to seize private property and turn it over to another private entity--effectively retranslating the Fifth Amendment's use of the words "public use" into the meaning "public benefit"--was a case I thought I was familiar with. But Benedict's talk revealed that while I was aware of some of the facts relevant to the legal case, I really had no idea about the whole story. In his short talk, he conveyed some of the events and details that did not make it to the national press, but which make the story all the more interesting. The political battles between state and city government, the plan to get Pfizer to stay in Connecticut when it was looking elsewhere, and the personalities involved made for a genuinely moving talk even when we already know how the story ends.

I look forward to reading his book.


Ktisophilos said...

OK Jim, so what was his verdict: fair ruling or travesty of justice? The dissenters argued that no private property would be safe if a government could take it for what they claim is a public benefit.

Jim Lippard said...

I finished the book and it was excellent--it does a great job of clearly explaining every player's motivations in a way that they're all understandable, including fairly representing the views of the New London city attorney. Nobody was acting in a way that was completely irrational or selfish or with disregard for others. It's a very well-done book, and he did an enormous amount of research to fill in all of the details.

This was actually not as ideal a case against eminent domain as I thought--the original judge's decision found for some plaintiffs and against others; he found for the plaintiffs where New London had no plan for what to do with their land, and against those where there was a plan and there *was* public use--specifically a roadway. Kelo's house was actually partly *in* the roadway.

There was, however, clear sleaziness in how the New London Development Corporation acted in trying to steamroll the homeowners, and the city attorney refused a compromise at the end that could have yielded a better outcome.

In the end, Kelo got another waterfront house and her home has been moved and preserved as a monument against eminent domain abuse.

Ktisophilos said...

Thanx Jim; seems a balanced treatment that still regards it as an unfair use of eminent domain.