The Real Life Disrupted When the Government Claimed Her Home, Part 2

Most of us have been lucky enough to learn about the increasingly broad of the use of eminent domain from reading about it in the newspaper. Susette Kelo did not have that luxury. Here, Ms. Kelo continues the story of how she learned of the government’s broad view of eminent domain from a series of notices delivered to her demanding that she sell her home and the court battles that followed…
Susette Kelo: The following month the Institute for Justice agreed to represent us. Without them, none of us would be here today. None of us could have afforded the tremendous legal costs which have been incurred over the years.
A year later we went to trial. After hearing 10 different reasons why our homes were being seized, from park support, to roads, to a museum, to warehousing, the Judge decided no one could give him a straight answer and overturned the eminent domain sentence on our home.
Then on the evening of October 29, 2002, I was working in the emergency room when the trauma code was called. A man who had been in a motor vehicle accident was nearly unrecognizable from his injuries and had been wheeled into the Trauma room. After several minutes of working alongside the Doctor and other fellow staff members, to my horror I realized it was Tim. For two weeks he laid in a coma, and we did not now if he would live or die. He finally improved and, after many surgeries, was taken off life support. Although Tim was permanently disabled due to traumatic brain injury, he was finally discharged to my care and able to come home. While he was hospitalized, the Connecicut Supreme Court heard our case. After Tim was well enough, we made it official by getting married. We still had no idea if we would get our home back. The court took fifteen months to reach its decision. When they did we were stunned, we had lost the case.
Our lives would be on hold and we would get another year as we waited for the Supreme Court to determine if they would hear our case. As you know the Supreme Court decided to hear Kelo vs. New London, and it was scheduled for September of 2005. Supporters from all over, including New London, came to the Supreme Court building that night, before the hearing, in order to hear what would become one of the most important property rights cases in American history.
There was a lot of information to get into the one hour that the court allows, so we were somewhat surprised that no sooner had our attorney made his arguments that Justice Ginsburg interrupted, to the point that it was obvious that our attorney’s line of reasoning did not matter, because the city was economically depressed. Having lived in New London for a good part of my life, I can guarantee that the city of New London is not depressed. It may be disadvantaged because it is led by a city council that has no imagination, but it is a beautiful shoreline village with many wealthy residents and much potential without stealing resident’s homes. None of us wanted to leave.
But the truth has been just as much a victim here as we have. And this is the story of me, my neighbors, our neighborhood, and our homes. None of asked for this. We were simply living our lives, working, taking care of our families, obeying the law, and paying our taxes. Even though our homes no longer belong to us, we continue to think what we have thought from the beginning, that a man’s home is his castle and it is simply wrong to take that from anyone, especially for the purposes of “economic development”, whatever that might be. Unfortunately the Supreme Court does not agree with that concept and has opened the door to economic development takings across the nation.
A few people believed and have said that money was the issue here. I tell you straight from my heart that no amount of money would ever cause me to change my mind, my goals, or my values. Mark Twain once wrote, “Don’t part with your illusions, when they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live”. My illusion was always that this is America. Had the City of New London needed our homes for a school, a fire station, or even a road, we would have been sad to lose our home, but we would have understood. If it were truly for a public purpose, it would have softened the blow and we would have complied. But public use is not the case here. Building a hotel, upscale condominiums, biotech office space, and homes for other people to live in is not a public use.
I would be foolish not to realize that my particular struggle is over, but as the result of the Fort Trumbull battle, property owners across the nation are up in arms and are involved in an effort to put an end to the abuse of eminent domain. Without the help and support of the Institute for Justice and our many supporters across the nation, our situation would never have received publicity and become a national campaign.
In September of 2005, when we again received eviction notices, Governor Rell intervened on our behalf asking now for the city to rescind those notices and declare a mortatorium on eminent domain until the Legislature considered that would protect property owners in Connecticut. The legislature failed to do that.
Election day will be here shortly, and we need to know individual legislators position on eminent domain and other issues as well. We need legislators like Rhode Island’s Governor Carcieri, who sponsored a bill that strengthens the safeguards against the taking of land for public purpose, forces towns to hold two public hearings before any taking, and prohibits towns from taking private land and turning over to another private entity. We need legislators who will listen to the voice of the people and not just big businesses.
This has been a very stressful eight years. More often than not, I wake up exhausted, discouraged, and wondering if this has all been worth it. But will I give up my opposition to eminent domain? Never. I have many new friends, close to over 500 who came from as far away as Kentucky and Texas who came to the July 2005 rally protesting the decision taking of property for economic development.
In the year since the Kelo v. New London decision, nearly 6,000 properties across America have been threatened or taken as the result of the Supreme Court’s decision. In New Jersey, Florida, California, Connecticut and even a place called Waterloo, Iowa, homes are being lost. What kind of America is this? We cannot allow the continued taking of private property like this. Charles Dickens wrote in the novel A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
I hope you will join me and millions of other Americans and tell the Federal Government, by your votes, that we have had enough.
This past year, several bills were introduced to the state legislature that would prevent this sequence of events from occurring to any homeowner in Rhode Island, but the House and Senate could not agree on a single reform bill, and the bills passed in each chamber were too vague to be meaningful. If you have the chance during this campaign season, ask your legislative candidates if they support clear, unambiguous eminent domain reform. And if a candidate is an incumbent, ask why it didn’t pass this session.

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