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Property Rights Foundation of America Submits "Friend of the Court" Brief to U.S. Supreme Court opposing New London's "Private Eminent Domain"

Top Connecticut Court Allowed Condemnation to Transfer Properties to Private Developer for Economic Improvement

If property owners in New London, Connecticut, are granted a hearing, the use of eminent domain to clear out non-blighted downtown areas for large-scale private development will be soon brought to the test in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Stony Creek, N.Y.-based Property Rights Foundation of America has submitted a brief amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the petition of Susette Kelo and others whose New London, Connecticut, property has been condemned for private development. The friend of the court brief is in support of the Petition for Certiorari that the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, filed in July appealing for a hearing before the nation's highest court.

The homeowners and businesses in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood have been fighting to save their property since the City of New London announced a plan to redevelopment their land. Much of the land will be leased to Corcoran Jennison, a private developer, for ninety-nine years at a rent of $1 per year paid to the New London Development Corporation, a private, nonprofit corporation. The city government and private development corporation hope that the upscale residences, expensive hotel and office buildings will generate more tax revenue and jobs than the less wealthy homes and businesses that currently occupy prime waterfront along the Thames River. One petitioner Wilhelmina Dery was born in her house in the neighborhood in 1918 and still lives there, along with her husband of fifty years and the rest of her family, according to the appeal filed by the homeowners with the U.S. Supreme Court after a sharply divided 4-3 decision against them by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The dispute, known as Susette Kelo v. City of New London, centers around a single principle-whether the government can condemn property to transfer it to another private party for the claimed "public purpose" of economic development. During recent years, government agencies far and wide have been condemning urban properties using the excuse that the properties are "blighted," whether or not this is reasonably the case, but with the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, the city is exercising its eminent domain power solely on the basis of economic development. Therefore, the question that the homeowners are presenting to the U.S. Supreme Court is narrowly defined to that of whether, or to what degree, economic development is a constitutional reason for eminent domain.

The Property Rights Foundation's amicus curiae brief points out that the U.S. Supreme Court has never made a ruling to support the contention that eminent domain is justified to transfer private property to another private party solely for the purpose of economic development. The brief points out that the standard employed by the Connecticut Supreme Court "gives government carte blanche to take private property from one person and transfer it to another person limited only by the government's willingness or ability to proclaim that is intent is to promote economic development." H. Christopher Bartolomucci, Partner, Hogan and Hartson, L.L.P., Washington, D.C., is representing the Property Rights Foundation of America.

With the sad thought in mind that residents stand to lose their cherished family homes for the sake of job creation and tax revenues, PRFA's brief contrasted the Connecticut policy with the historic rejection of this purpose of eminent domain in the U.S. Supreme Court starting with Calder v. Bull in 1798, where it was stated that it is "against all reason and justice, for a people to entrust a Legislature with" the power to enact "a law that takes property from A and gives it to B," and therefore the legislature cannot be presumed to have such a power.

In August, Dana Berliner, Senior Counsel at the Institute for Justice, called the Connecticut ruling "eminent domain without limits." She pointed out, "IJ and the homeowners' argument was simple-the Constitution forbids condemnations for the purpose of private development."

Contacts: Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of America
(518) 696-5748
  H. Christopher Bartolomucci
Hogan and Hartson, L.L.P.
(202) 637-5810

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