New Book on Kelo

Book Review by Justin Torres, The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain, by Prof. Ilya Somin, U.Chi. Press, 2015, 336 pp.

Where There’s a Book, There’s book review blogs

There is a new book out, this one by Professor Ilya Somin of George Mason University, that takes a look at the wretched case of Kelo v. New London, in which the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5 to 4 vote, approved the eminent domain taking and destruction of an unoffending lower middle-class neighborhood in New London, Connecticut, in order to raze it and redevelop it with spiffy shops, condos, a marina and a five-star hotel. The city sold a bill of goods to the Supreme Court, convincing it that this would be a well-planned project that would serve well-paid professional employees of the nearby Pfizer pharmaceutical company and add tax money to the city coffers, thus creating a “public benefit” that Justice Stevens, in a twisting of the English language, thought would be a “more accurate” way of saying “public use” which the Constitution requires when private property is taken.

Somin’s book, in addition to the usual journalistic story of the Kelo debacle, also provides its readers with the legal, doctrinal history of eminent domain, and that should be useful to lay readers who most of the time espouse myths and don’t know from shinola about the nuts and bolts of eminent domain law

Much has been written about the Kelo legal, moral and semantic atrocity, so we won’t go into all that. Suffice it to quote here the conclusion of Torres’ book review::

Kelo has only one real set of supporters: legal academics, who defend its deference to planners and politicians and its watered-down redefinition of “public use.” The continued defense of Kelo by the professoriate-a group normally inclined to side against corporate interests and in favor of the underprivileged-suggests that the case had less to do with corporate greed than it did with social class.”


Suffice it to add to that that what the city sold the Supreme Court turned out to be a load of BS. Those “carefully vetted” city plans turned out not to be worth the proverbial paper they were written on. Susette Kelo’s neighborhood was destroyed but nothing was built on its site. No new structures, no benefits, no new taxes, no nothin’. The 90-acre waterfront site has been sitting vacant and neglected for the past decade. Indeed, after Pfizer exhausted its tax benefits that came with this deal, it moved out of town, lock, stock and pillbox, and took some 1400 jobs with it. This caper wasted over $100 million in public funds and produced nothing, nada, zip, bobkes. The city’s chosen redeveloper wasn’t even able to line up financing. So what the city got was just deserts, and the taxpayers got screwed.

Sounds like Somin did a good job, so if you have an interest in this subject, go out and get yourself a copy of his book.

For our own commentaries on the Kelo case, See Kelo v. New London: Bad Law, Bad Policy, and Bad Judgment, 38 The Urban Lawyer 201 (2006). Enjoy!