From IJ Client to American Folk Hero

June 22, 2009

Our national history is a history of folk heroes. From Betsy Ross and Harriet Tubman to Clara Barton, determined women have stood up to tyranny and battled great odds to do what was needed to improve the lives and lot of those around them.

So it is with Institute for Justice client Susette Kelo, who, with the publishing of the dramatic tale, Little Pink House: A True Story of Courage and Defiance (Grand Central Publishing), has entered the realm of American folk heroes. Susette’s fight to save the only home she ever owned became a rallying point for those who believe in property rights and constitutional constraints on government power.

Across the nation, think tanks dedicated to the fight for freedom have joined with IJ to promote the book, its heroine and its author, Jeff Benedict. Kicking off the tour was the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), which invited Susette, Jeff and IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner to launch TPPF’s briefing with the Texas Legislature to call for eminent domain reform in the Lone Star State. The Texas Legislature passed a constitutional amendment on eminent domain that will be voted on by the public in November.

The Cato Institute hosted a forum with Susette, Jeff and IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock—an event that C-SPAN’s Book TV later aired. Moderated by Cato’s Center for Constitutional Studies Director Roger Pilon, the trio of guests vividly recounted Kelo’s battle from the day she first saw the home until it was taken down board by board and reconstructed as a monument in downtown New London. The home now stands as a marker for the families who stood and fought for what was rightfully theirs.

The Little Pink House tour moved on to Boston, where the Pioneer Institute hosted an event in the historic Union Club. Explaining the need for eminent domain reform in places like Massachusetts—one of only seven states that has yet to pass reforms—is a continuing effort by State Policy Network organizations like Pioneer and IJ. Such relentless advocacy is one of the reasons 43 states have passed stronger property rights protections in the mere four years since Kelo was handed down.

Susette and Jeff then flew to Michigan where the Mackinac Center for Public Policy used their Little Pink House event as the center-piece of a major local media expedition and followed it with a bus tour of local areas where property rights remain under assault.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation launched its Property Rights Center at a packed gala luncheon where Susette, Jeff and I recounted the story behind Little Pink House. EFF’s new Property Rights Center seeks to educate and activate citizens in Washington in the fight to protect private property against unwarranted government encroachment.

Phoenix was the latest stop on the tour, where the Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice co-hosted a lunchtime forum for Jeff and Goldwater Institute Litigation Director Clint Bolick with more than 120 guests. IJ earned one of its most significant property rights victories in Arizona when we successfully defended the rights of brake shop owner Randy Bailey, whose land was targeted by the city of Mesa to make way for an expanded Ace Hardware store.

If you have not yet read Little Pink House, do yourself a favor and read it; learn how this kind of abuse of power can take place in America. And share Susette’s story with others. America needs heroes like her now more than ever. Isn’t it nice that this hero fights for our constitutional rights?

John E.Kramer is the Institute’s vice president for communications.

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