One of the worst Supreme Court decisions of my lifetime came when the court ruled that the city of New London, Connecticut could legally use eminent domain to seize the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors and then release that property for private development, using the power of the state to take away the rights of individuals for the benefits of politically connected business interests.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in her dissent that “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner.” In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that:
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.'
The Kelo decision led to a nationwide revolt against eminent domain seizures and a rise in prominence of property rights activists. Here in Texas we just voted on and passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting the seizure of private property for commercial use and similar laws have been passed in many other states.
Now, in a supreme irony, the Pfizer corporation on whose behalf the land was seized and the homes were torn down, has decided to move its operations out of New London, abandoning its existing facility there, and giving up plans to build on the land which the city government went to the Supreme Court to seize for them. The land where Kelo's cute pink bungalow and the homes of her neighbors once stood will now lie vacant.
Rather than creating new jobs as promised, Pfizer is now taking away over 3000 jobs from the community and rather than bringing in new tax revenue as promised, they are going to put more of a burden on the private taxpayers of New London, all of this in addition to the lives displaced and the harm done to the original residents of the property. The city government made a bad bet when it offered the land as a bribe to Pfizer with no guarantee that they would follow through when their bottom line dictated that they should move on.
If there were ever an argument to be made against the evils of the state-corporatism which has pervaded our nation, from the corporate bailouts in the halls of Congress to the tax abatements and eminent domain seizures which state and local governments engage in, this ironic outcome in Connecticut has to be a cornerstone of that argument.
For free enterprise to work, we have to remember that business and government must be kept separate. It is the function of business to make money and produce profits. It is government's job to regulate business in a reasonable way, and protect the people. It is not the proper role of government to be a partner in business, or to interfere in how business is conducted, except when it involves protecting the public from fraud and harm. Most of all, government should never take from the citizens to enrich a business, through taxation or through direct seizure of property. These practices, which are particularly favored by the political left, have got to stop, and the rights of individuals must be respected, both at the federal and local level.
Now an empty lot full of broken bottles, rubble and weeds serves as a monument to the folly of government favoring the interests of a business to the detriment of the rights and welfare of the people.