U.S. Supreme Court Denies Homeowners’ Request to Rehear Kelo

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · August 22, 2005

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. Supreme Court today turned away the chance to rehear one of its most-despised decisions in recent memory: its ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, which allows the use of eminent domain for private development. The Court denied a petition filed on behalf of New London, Conn., homeowners asking the Court to reconsider its 5-4 ruling from June 23 that has already opened up the floodgates to eminent domain abuse nationwide. “Given that the Court has not agreed to rehear a decision in over 50 years, this is not a huge surprise,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice. “But the denial makes it crystal clear that since the Supreme Court will not protect home and small business owners, it is now up to state legislatures and state courts to protect people from eminent domain abuse.”

And that is already happening. Responding to widespread public outrage over the Kelo ruling, lawmakers in more than 30 states and the U.S. Congress have taken swift action toward curbing eminent domain abuse. Early this month, Alabama became the first state to prohibit eminent domain purely for private development after Kelo?though it leaves open a significant loophole through “blight” laws. The Texas governor is expected to sign legislation this week that could curb eminent domain abuse. For a complete list of proposed state and federal legislation, visit www.castlecoalition.org.

“Some states have taken tentative first steps, but much remains to be done to fully protect home and business owners,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner. “Across the nation, cities and developers are fighting very hard to hold on to their power to confiscate other people’s homes and businesses for private development. There is overwhelming public support for an end to eminent domain abuse. Legislatures need to make real changes, not cosmetic ones, to end eminent domain for private commercial development throughout the country.”

In Connecticut, the state legislature is also considering changes to eminent domain laws and Governor M. Jodi Rell has declared that she supports permitting the Fort Trumbull homeowners to stay in their neighborhood if it is possible.

“The battle in New London is far from over,” added Bullock. “We will continue to work tirelessly to make sure the homeowners are able to stay.”

Legislative reform is more important than ever because the Court’s Kelo ruling has already opened the floodgates to eminent domain abuse, much as Justice O’Connor predicted in her minority opinion. Local officials in more than 30 cities have cited the ruling in moving ahead with condemnations for private development, and dozens more projects nationwide could threaten thousands of home and small business owners.

Among the many projects buoyed by the Kelo ruling:

  • Small businesses are being seized for more upscale businesses. Hours after the decision, officials in Freeport, Texas, began legal filings to seize two family-owned seafood companies to make way for an $8 million private boat marina.
  • In three Missouri towns—as well as other cities across the country—homes are already being taken for shopping malls. On July 12, 2005, Sunset Hills, Mo., voted to allow the condemnation of 85 homes and small businesses to make way for a $165 million shopping center and office complex. The City of Arnold plans to take 30 homes and 15 small businesses, including the Arnold Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, for a Lowe’s and a strip mall. And in late July a Missouri judge reluctantly condemned a home in an upscale St. Louis neighborhood to be replaced with a shopping center. Basing his decision on Missouri law and the Kelo decision, the judge lamented: “The United States Supreme Court has denied the Alamo reinforcements. … Perhaps the people will clip the wings of eminent domain in Missouri, but today in Missouri it soars and devours.”
  • Homes are also being taken for nicer homes. In Long Branch, N.J., officials are poised to use eminent domain to take the oceanfront homes of residents who stand in the way of new luxury condos.
  • For a complete list of eminent domain abuses since the Kelo ruling, as well as ongoing tracking of current eminent domain controversies, visit www.castlecoalition.org.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Institute for Justice and its Castle Coalition grassroots arm launched a $3 million Hands Off My Home campaign. The campaign supports eminent domain reform at the state and local level and equips ordinary Americans with the means to protect their homes, small businesses and churches from eminent domain for private profit. Citizens can join the Castle Coalition and learn how to get involved in Hands Off My Home at www.castlecoalition.org.