Brief Urges Supreme Court to Protect Private Property from Government Confiscation — The Cato Institute, 12/6/04

Can government give your home to someone else, just because the new owner will pay more taxes?

On December 3, 2004, the Cato Institute filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Kelo v. City of New London, which asks the Supreme Court to stop government officials from confiscating private homes to make way for vague private development projects. The Court is expected to hear arguments in the case early in 2005.

The case shines a light on New London, Connecticut, where Pfizer established its headquarters in 1998. The City of New London has decided that the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, which lies in the shadow of Pfizer's corporate offices, is "in the way" of economic growth. In 2000, the city put Fort Trumbull in its cross-hairs, by handing over its power of eminent domain — the ability to take private property for public use — to the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), a private developer. The NLDC is tasked with seizing Fort Trumbull, and razing it to make way for a hotel and office center.

Local resident Susette Kelo and her neighbors immediately sued to save their family homes - and fought the city's plan all the way to the Supreme Court.

Cato's brief, filed on Kelo's behalf, argues the city has violated the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause. That provision permits government to take private property only for "public" use - such as roads or hospitals - after paying just compensation. But in this case, the city wants to seize property for the benefit of private developers - simply because government accountants believe the new owner will generate more revenues for the city.

The University of Chicago's Richard A. Epstein, the author of Cato's brief, carefully dissects the City's argument, showing it to be without constitutional merit. This case, he adds, puts the spotlight on the "financial ruin" and "psychological devastation" that follow from the confiscation of private homes.

Roger Pilon, Cato's vice president for legal affairs, notes that these seizures are taking place across the country. "It's time for the Court to bring the Constitution's protections for private property down upon this practice," he says. Mark Moller, Cato senior fellow in constitutional studies and co-counsel for Cato on the brief, adds, "A ruling in favor of the City is an invitation to disaster -- since every big business is likely to generate more taxes than ordinary homeowners or small businesses. If the City can take your home for something as nebulous as `economic development,' no property is safe."

The Cato Institute: www.cato.org

The Brief is online at: www.cato.org/pubs/legalbriefs/kelovcityofnewlondon.pdf