More on the Heroic Institute for Justice’s Fight for Justice

Fighting for Her Rights
Susette Kelo is fighting for her home. She doesn’t want to sell it. She doesn’t want to move. The city fathers of New London want to swap her out for what they consider a better class of taxpayers. So they’re trying to take her home from her.

Joan Biskupic of USA Today describes Ms. Kelo’s fight to keep what is hers, but alas, fails to mention that the case is being handled by one of my favorite organizations, the Institute for Justice. (You can find IJ’s updates and legal briefs here; the Cato Institute’s legal brief in the case of Susette Kelo, Et Al. v. City of New London, Connecticut, Et Al., prepared for Cato by Richard Epstein, can be found here.)

Naturally, it’s voluntary donations that support the efforts of the Institute for Justice and the Cato Institute. Anyone who’d like to stand up for people like Susette Kelo can do so with their voices (letters-to-the-editor and letters to lawmakers do help) and with their dollars.

Hat tip for the USA Today story to David B. Brown.

18 Responses to “More on the Heroic Institute for Justice’s Fight for Justice”

  1. Ross Levatter

    Tom, you make the claim, while defending property rights against eminent domain, though I take your comment to be more general, ala democracy: “letters to lawmakers do help”. Do you know of empirical evidence this is true, especially at the federal level, where both opponents and proponents of bills get sent automated responses from Congressmen vaguely agreeing with whatever position was initially taken? I seem to recall reading something by Eric O’Keefe suggesting this was not the case, but may be misremembering.


  2. The Constitution is a great document, but it has several flaws (among them Amendment XIV Section 4’s “The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned) and one of it’s flaws was/is allowing eminent domain for any reason at all.

  3. Tom G. Palmer

    Ross raises a good question.

    My remarks about writing to lawmakers was directed mainly to local lawmakers (city council members and the like), where opposition to eminent domain is likely to have some effect.

    I know plenty of people on Capitol Hill who insist that letters make a big difference. They don’t respond to each letter individually, but they are put in stacks (pro/con) and counted and the results are reported to the legislative assitants and the members. That’s done for a reason, because politicians figure that for every letter writer there are lots of others who agree but who didn’t bother to write, and also that people who do bother to write are likely to be influential in some circles back home. I am not aware of any academic literature on the topic, however.

  4. Natarajan Ramachandran

    I found this rather odd: “Those backing Kelo include the NAACP and AARP, which say the social harm can outweigh the public benefits when governments take property for private economic development. The groups say government efforts to lure business and spur greater revenue can disproportionately hurt the poor, the elderly and racial minorities.” (News report in USA Today). AARP is an arch opponent of President Bush’s social security privatization plan.

  5. Tom G. Palmer

    I find Mr. Ranachandran’s remark as curious as he found the backing of Kelo by the NAACP and AARP. Social Security and eminent domain are not closely linked in the minds of most people, and it would not be all that unusual to find coalitions of people who oppose each other on some issues joining together on others. That happens all the time. Ms. Kelo’s backers would be remiss not to solicit the support of groups such as AARP and the NAACP.

  6. James Alan Daum

    There is nothing in the Constitution for the United States of America that implies that the union or any of the states and, by reference, creations of those states has “eminent domain.”

    These two words roughly translated as “obvious right” can only mean the right of the people to own property and to be secure in their person and home.

    The constitutional reference most pertinent to claims made in the name of corporate entities is found at Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2:

    The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needed Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

    OTHERWISE, the terms of the RICO Act grant Ms Kelo THRICE the fair market value of her property in compensation for its loss.

  7. Tom G. Palmer


    Sorry it took so long to respond. The Post editorial on “Taking New London” was interesting for a number of reasons. First was the claim that “Traditionally, the courts have shown great deference to legislatures as to what constitutes a public use.” That depends on one’s time horizon and one’s definition of “traditionally.” There was a time when courts examined the issue of whether a proposed use was indeed a public use, but that was replaced by the doctrine that all that was necessary was that “the exercise of the eminent domain power is rationally related to a conceivable public purpose,” which held in effect that if a public body (even one of the sort in the New London case, a “private, nonprofit corporation”) undertook the confiscation, it was therefore a public use, even if it was going to be turned over to a private firm, such as General Motors. The New London case is even worse than most, however, because it is not a case of a public use, i.e., a use to the public, but a case of a set of politicians trading in one public for another, which they assert will deliver to them greater tax revenues. That is what happened in the 1981 Poletown case, in which private homes, businesses, and churches were taken from their owners and the land given to General Motors to build a car factory. That case was unanimously overturned in 2004 (see ) by the Michigan Supreme Court.

    It is not the case, contrary to the Post’s editorial, that “The takings clause was meant less to restrain government than to ensure that it pays fairly when it infringes on private property.” It is very much about ensuring that state power not be used to sacrifice the interests of some to the interests of others. Furthermore, when the public use restriction is not invoked, and only claims for just compensation are made, the opposition (and I would suspect that would be true of the author of the Post’s editorial) steadily resist compensation. Note, for example, the outraged tone in the Post’s news coverage of Oregon’s Measure 37, which requires compensation to long-time property owners who have been deprived of uses of their land.

    There is a reason that the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution reads as it does: “nor shall any person be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Were the writer of the Post editorial correct, it would read “nor shall private property be taken without just compensation.” But it doesn’t. The language specifies that a justified taking must be for public use, not for just any use, and to define public use as “defined by a public body” renders the term otiose, since it is presupposed that takings by government are by public bodies, so that the words “for public use” would serve no function whatsoever. And that would be a very strange principle of interpretation.

  8. Tom, How can the New England city government be so arrogant as to think that they have the solution for future growth and revenue. Has anyone asked or researched how and why the city has problems (ie – Gardena, California)? Wouldn’t an interesting solution be to impeach the local government officials for not responsibily representing the electorate and if there is no state support propose impeachment at that level too?

  9. Natasha Mendenhall

    i think that the use of eminent domain is dumb, and unjust. people have the right to fight against it because it’s morally wrong to take something from some one else.. that’s my input … i’m a high school student, we are debating this in my frensic’s class..

  10. I found it interesting when reading Alexander Stephens’ two-volume exposition on the constitutional issues related to the War Between The States that he mentions eminent domain as an example of a power not delegated to the general government by the Constitution. Not only is eminent domain not mentioned, but Article I, Section 8, Sub-section 17 (relating to purchases of property with consent of state legislatures) makes no sense if Congress possessed the power of enforced taking of real property within the states.