In Praise of an Outrage

There is an old Charles Addams cartoon in the New Yorker magazine. It indicates that a horrible thing is occurring, though the cartoon does not actually depict the event itself. All it shows is the horrified faces of the people watching it. But standing in the crowd is one of Addams’ stock characters, a bald little guy clad in a black robe, and judging from the grin on his face, he is hugely enjoying the sight of the disaster. We were reminded of that cartoon as we read a recent article seeking to justify, indeed praise, the Kelo case, even though somewhere around 90% of the people think it was a wretched blunder on the part of the Supreme Court’s majority.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, do take a look at Book Review: Jeff Benedict’s Little Pink House: The Back Story of the Kelo Case, 42 Conn. L.Rev. 925 (2010). In it, Professor George Lefcoe of the U.S.C. Law School offers his benign view of the wretched Kelo case, by basically quibbling with the contents of Benedict’s book. Nice try, George.  We could go through Professor Lefcoe’s entire apologia, but we won’t. Those of our readers with a serious interest in eminent domain in general and the Kelo case in particular, will check it out for themselves, and as for the others, you can save yourselves the time and trouble. 

Two items, however, bear mention. First, while Professor Lefcoe goes through the familiar lamentations about new London’s dire condition as part of a historical trend and particularly after the U.S. Navy’s closing of its New London submarine base, he fails to note that as all these calamities were said to unfold, the Fitch bond rating service gave New London’s general obligation bonds a rating of AA- a solid investment grade rating, that is higher than the rating of California state GO bonds. One is left to wonder if New London advised the buyers of those bonds that it was in as parlous a condition as depicted to the Supreme Court. 

Second, he fails to note the extent of the failure of the New London redevelopment project. The city took some 91 acres of land, razed all structures on it (except for the local Italian Dramatic Club building – a hangout of local politicians), but was unable to do anything with that land. As reported time and again by the New York Times and The Day (a local newspaper), and as noted here from time to time, the city’s chosen redeveloper was unable to obtain financing even before the crash (remember that the U.S. Supreme Court gave the city a green light in 2005), so the project went nowhere, as duly noted by the New York Times as early as 2007. 

As Professor Lefcoe sees it, “Residents and visitors can now enjoy the stunning waterfront from the newly refurbished Fort Trumbull and Fort Trumbull State park.” Id. at p. 934. Nothing about the “stunning” site being a garbage-strewn, weed-overgrown wilderness of interest only to birds and feral cats. Was that worth over $100 million in public funds? 

And so it goes. Your tax money at work.

Note: This is a revised version of the post originally posted on March 15, 2010.