- Eminent domain creates strange political bedfellows: Once-developer and now-President Donald Trump, along with liberal justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, came out against ordinary homeowners and in favor of the government and private developers.
- But for the government’s use of eminent domain, corporations would be powerless to take someone else’s home.
- The release of Little Pink House provides a rare opportunity for political unity. It should unite the Left, which wants to limit corporate influence on government, and the Right, which wants to limit government power over property.
Arlington, Va.—Little Pink House is both a major motion picture and a cautionary tale that shows what happens when the government teams up with powerful private interests to take an entire working-class neighborhood for a glitzy development—a project that 13 years later is nothing but barren fields.
Starring two-time Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener and Emmy nominee Jeanne Tripplehorn, Little Pink House opens on April 20 and will be screened in theaters across the nation. It tells the true story of Susette Kelo (played by Keener), a small-town paramedic from New London, Connecticut, who buys her first home—a cottage—and paints it pink. When the governor and his allies plan to bulldoze her little pink house to make way for a development benefitting the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Kelo fights back, taking her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although national polls at the time of the Kelo ruling consistently showed that the public overwhelmingly rejects the use of eminent domain for private gain, the issue made for strange political bedfellows. It was the U.S. Supreme Court’s liberal justices who made up the majority that ruled against Kelo and in favor of the government, and when the Kelo ruling was handed down, developer Trump said, “I happen to agree with it 100%.” Trump had earlier sought to employ eminent domain to take a widow’s property in Atlantic City for his private use. After becoming President of the United States, he said, “I think eminent domain is wonderful.”
“As the Atlantic City eminent domain battle showed, unless the government abuses its power of eminent domain, private corporations are powerless to take someone’s property; they must negotiate because they cannot use force,” said Institute for Justice Litigation Director Dana Berliner, who successfully represented the widow at the heart of the Atlantic City lawsuit and who argued Kelo’s case before the Connecticut Supreme Court.
As documented in the film, after Kelo lost her U.S. Supreme Court case, her struggle sparked a nationwide backlash against eminent domain abuse that today helps millions of Americans better protect what is rightfully theirs. The Supreme Court used the Kelo ruling to radically expand this government power—allowing eminent domain for the mere promise from a developer that it might pay more taxes if given someone else’s land, rather than for an actual public use, as required by the U.S. Constitution. Because of the grassroots backlash at the state level against eminent domain abuse, however, the Kelo case is justifiably seen as a situation in which the government won the battle, but lost the war. Still, the Institute for Justice, which represented Kelo, stated that more reforms are still needed if the abuse of this government power is to be ended once and for all.
“Little Pink House wonderfully captures what the fight for property rights is all about,” said Institute for Justice President Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo case before the U.S. Supreme Court. “A house is typically someone’s most valuable asset, but the value of a home goes well beyond its mere monetary worth. For so many, it is an extension of who they are and what they value. It is where a person might raise a family, grow a small business, celebrate, mourn and grow old. Eminent domain abuse, as depicted in this film, is not only unconstitutional, it is profoundly wrong. Little Pink House vividly documents the heroic struggle of Susette and her neighbors to not only fight for their homes but for the constitutional rights of millions of others in America and throughout the world.”
Little Pink House should unite those on the Left who want to limit corporate influence on government, and those on the Right, who want to limit government power over property, said Bullock. Eminent domain abuse disproportionately strikes poor and minority communities, and there is often a giant gap between the promises made by redevelopment supporters and the promises such plans actually deliver. In just a five-year period, there were more than 10,000 instances nationwide where eminent domain for private development was either used or threatened by the government.
Government officials and the developer promised that the project that replaced Susette Kelo’s tight-knit blue-collar neighborhood would thrive and would make New London tax-rich. Now, 13 years after the landmark Kelo ruling, all that remains there are barren fields; nothing lives there now but weeds and feral cats.
“It was all for nothing,” said Susette Kelo. “The government put us through all that torture and now, more than a dozen years later, they have literally nothing to show for it. But even if they turned what was my home into an emerald city, that still wouldn’t have made it right. The government and their corporate confidants destroyed our neighborhood and our constitutional rights. We need to keep fighting this until we end eminent domain abuse once and for all.”
Eminent domain hot spots remain around the country. For example:
- In Garfield, New Jersey, the town’s redevelopment agency is using a bogus blight designation to take a zipper manufacturing warehouse, along with its neighbors’ homes, for a private developer to build private retail and housing.
- Cumberland, Maryland, is trying to bulldoze a number of homes to make way for a chain restaurant.
- The Bae family left Korea and built a successful dry cleaning business in East Harlem, New York. But city officials want to demolish it so a developer can build an entertainment complex.
Little Pink House has been lauded by The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline Hollywood, among others. In addition to attracting stars Keener and Tripplehorn, Little Pink House features the original song “Home Free,” written and performed for the movie by rock legend David Crosby.
The independent film was directed by Courtney Balaker and produced by her husband, Ted Balaker. It will open on screens across the nation with more screenings being added each week. In those markets where Little Pink House is not being shown in theaters, the public can follow a simple process to bring the movie to their hometown theater or enter an email address at littlepinkarmy.com and a representative from the film will walk them through the process.
Courtney Balaker said, “Eminent domain abuse is a fancy term for legalized bullying. It happens when insiders take advantage of outsiders. Developers and politicians promise more jobs and more tax revenue, so it sounds appealing to lots of people. But all the high-minded talk obscures what’s really going on—they’re forcing people out of their homes. If you own your home and you want to keep living in your home, you should be able to stay in your home. Eminent domain abuse happens far more often than most people realize, and it rarely brings the kind of economic development its supporters promise. It should come as no surprise that poor and minority communities are especially likely to be targeted.”