Did You Say “Holdout”? A New Book on the Kelo Controversy Tells All.

           With rhythmic regularity of the tides, redevelopment groupies assure us that recourse to eminent domain in redevelopment projects is necessary because without it there will be those awful “holdouts” whose refusal to sell their properties to redevelopers at below-market prices will spoil the whole thing by forcing changes in redevelopment  plans and having to build around them. Indeed, we wish we had a buck for each time that “holdout” argument has been made in connection with the Kelo case. Nonetheless we should all reflect on the fact that there was a holdout in the Kelo case, and it wasn’t Suzette Kelo. For some strange reason the city of New London had no problems with it and the press hasn’t made much of it. Remarkable, isn’t it? 

          We were reminded of all this by the new book by Jeff Benedict, entitled Little Pink House: One Woman’s Historic Battle Against Eminent Domain (2009), which tells the whole story of Kelo v. New London. Our perception is that up until now virtually all discussion of the Kelo case and the misuse of eminent domain that it symbolizes, has been centered on law. Rightly so, because the vast majority of English-speaking people took offense at the court transmogrifying the phrase “public use” into private economic benefit on the intellectually and economically flimsy theory that some of the redevelopers’ prosperity would trickle down to the community. But there is more to life than law. The Kelo-related puzzle – if that is what it is – is how come the Italian Dramatic Club of New London got to be the onliest structure left alone when the Fort Trumbull area was taken by eminent domain and razed to the ground? 

          Jeff Benedict tells that story, along with a detailed depiction of the political, behind-the-scenes activities that preceded the condemnation. Benedict makes clear that the decision to leave the Italian Dramatic Club alone while destroying all structures around it, was a case of favoritism arising out of local politics. So much for the “holdout” theory. So far, no one has even tried to explain how leaving the Italian Dramatic Club (in reality more of a political club to which women were not admitted, except in the capacity of servants) untouched while razing all other structures in the Fort Trumbull area was justified. Evidently, it all depends on how well connected politically is the holdout. As the ancient Italians, the Romans, used to say: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi – or, if you prefer the modern English version, some animals are more equal than others. So do read Little Pink House. It’s a good read for anyone with an interest in modern uses and abuses of eminent domain. It tells the whole Kelo story.

Follow up. For a detailed review of Benedict’s book, see the post of Prof. Ilya Somin on the Volokh Conspiracy – Telling the Kelo Story: Jeff Benedict’s “Little Pink House,” posted February 21, 2009.

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