Saturday, November 14, 2009

They bombed in New London

Remember Suzette Kelo? She was one of the people who lost homes to a redevelopment project anchored by Pfizer Inc.

Well, the tax breaks ran out, and so did Pfizer.

The Supreme Court heard their eminent domain case about five years ago, and I remember it because it was one of those rare cases where there was public outrage across the political spectrum. 'Take the land for a road or school,' I thought at the time, 'but not to benefit a private company.'

Pfizer's research and development facility was touted as the 'anchor' of the project. It was supposed to draw hotels, condominiums, biotech office buildings, a marina, a walkway, a proposed Coast Guard Museum and public parking for the museum and the adjacent Fort Trumbull park.

From the stories I've seen, for their $78 million (or more than $80 million according to another article) they've got the parking lot. So much for the Little Pink Houses like Kelo's.

Heck, and I never thought I'd write this, Justice Clarence Thomas was right:
The Framers embodied that principle in the Constitution, allowing the government to take property not for “public necessity,” but instead for “public use.” Amdt. 5. Defying this understanding, the Court replaces the Public Use Clause with a “ ‘[P]ublic [P]urpose’ ” Clause, ante, at 9—10 (or perhaps the “Diverse and Always Evolving Needs of Society” Clause, ante, at 8 (capitalization added)), a restriction that is satisfied, the Court instructs, so long as the purpose is “legitimate” and the means “not irrational,” ante, at 17 (internal quotation marks omitted).

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.”
Thomas (or his clerk) was on a roll. He also said that eminent domain-fueled urban renewal often became a synonym for "negro removal".

Ah, well, nothing new. Big business teams up with government and the middle class loses.

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