[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
You may or may not know of the Kelo decision. For those who don’t or those who need a refresher, here’s the short version. The city of New London, Connecticut, wanted to basically force a number of people out of their homes in order to give their land to a private companies in a plan to build facilities for Pfizer and shopping centers and the like for the increased business the city hoped Pfizer and the other new owners would generate.
But the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that:
nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
And the courts have taken that to mean that the taking can’t occur at all, unless it is for a public use. In Kelo, the United States Supreme Court found that the taking was lawful in the context of this integrated development plan, in part because the public would benefit from the increased taxes. It was a rare moment of unity for liberals and conservatives when the decision came down, because both sides offered withering criticism of this decisions. Conservatives were angry at the violation of property rights, while liberals for the implication that you could take someone’s house as long as you plan to give it to someone who pays more in taxes—typically a person who is richer than the other person. And the bad irony of it all is that Pfizer never did build the facility that was the keystone for this whole development plan that cost these people their family homes.
But of course none of this would have happened if the Connecticut Supreme Court hadn’t first given New London the thumbs up. If they had ruled that the state version of the takings clause prohibited this action, it would have been impossible for the Supreme Court to rule as it had: there wouldn’t have been federal jurisdiction over the matter. And now via Reason we learn that the Hartford Courant is telling how at least one justice who sat on the Connecticut Supreme Court felt he had done the wrong thing:
If a state Supreme Court judge approaches a journalist at a private dinner and says something newsworthy about an important decision, is the journalist free to publish the statement?
I faced that situation at a dinner honoring the Connecticut Supreme Court at the New Haven Lawn Club on May 11, 2010. That night I had delivered the keynote address on the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 5-4 decision in Kelo v. New London. Susette Kelo was in the audience and I used the occasion to tell her personal story, as documented in my book “Little Pink House.”
Afterward, Susette and I were talking in a small circle of people when we were approached by Justice Richard N. Palmer. Tall and imposing, he is one of the four justices who voted with the 4-3 majority against Susette and her neighbors. Facing me, he said: “Had I known all of what you just told us, I would have voted differently.”
The justice later clarifies his comments so that what it amounts to is that if he knew that New London would never put into action its grand schemes, he would have voted differently. Which might be true, or might be the ego of a judge who never wants to admit he made the wrong call given the facts he knew at the time. I report, you decide. But it’s also a useful reminder of the real world effects of court decisions. Many families lost their homes. And it may not reverse things, but it was big of Justice Palmer to at least say this much.
Oh, and read the whole thing.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]