Bad court decisions inspire real government

Government’s tendency toward tumescence, often followed by the opposite, intrigues me. Never more so than now. This month, the blue pill purveyor called Pfizer pulled out of New London, Conn.

Pun definitely intended.

News and comments about the pharmaceutical giant leaving New London affords us a chance to reprise the goings-on earlier this decade that led to one of the worst and best U.S. Supreme Court decisions of our time.

I write, of course, about Kelo v. City of New London, a case that in 2005 went against property owners. The Supremes split 5-4 in favor of city eminent domain to take said property owners’ residences for what essentially amounted to private development.

It was a horrid decision and a ghastly misuse of eminent domain provisions, which allow takings—with market rates to recompense owners—for public use projects such as roads or bridges.

It was the best decision because the New London case, to the credit of private property advocates across the land, became a rallying point. Legal barriers were thrown up in state after state to such inappropriate takings. In Nevada, voters in 2006 and 2008 approved a state constitutional amendment against eminent domain takings for private projects.

Nevadans weren’t alone. As the Wall Street Journal put it in a piece called “Pfizer and Kelo’s Ghost Town” printed on Nov. 11:

Kelo’s silver lining has been that it transformed eminent domain from an arcane government power into a major concern of voters who suddenly wonder if their own homes are at risk. According to the Institute for Justice, which represented Susette Kelo, 43 states have since passed laws that place limits and safeguards on eminent domain, giving property owners greater security in their homes.”

Susette Kelo and a few other homeowners fought New London city officials all the way to the land’s highest court only to have it side, by the slimmest margin, with the city against the sacred right to hearth and home security that each of us should enjoy.

“Under the banner of economic development,” wrote then Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a 2005 dissenting minority opinion, “all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, another among the minority, said in his own dissent:

“This deferential shift in phraseology enables the Court to hold, against all common sense, that a costly urban-renewal project whose stated purpose is a vague promise of new jobs and increased tax revenue, but which is also suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation, is for a ‘public use.’”

Pfizer, to be fair, got bad PR because it had a research facility on adjacent land and was said to favor redevelopment next door. But the city was the stalking horse for private interests, whoever they actually were, and bears responsibility along with the high court majority for this irresponsibility.

Pfizer now gets another dose of bad PR as a merger and recession made it decide to pull out of the New London research facility and take 1,500 jobs to Groton, Conn.

The reaction of Susette Kelo, who moved to Groton after her property was taken?

“We always thought it was foolish from the beginning,” she said.

But then, government tumescence followed by post-codependency depredations often seem as foolish in the public domain as similar ups and downs can prove in our private lives.

This could also have proved a woefully bitter pill for everyone to swallow but for that wonderful citizen backlash by voters and many of their representatives across the land.

Viva voters’ vitality, I say.