Eminent domain? ‘Never mind’

Pfizer, Inc., announced this week that the company will be closing its former research and development headquarters in New London, Conn. — the project for which the city of New London infamously used its power of eminent domain to seize and ultimately bulldoze the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors, after that seizure was OK’d by the U.S. Supreme Court in its highly controversial ruling “Kelo v. City of New London.”

“This was the same bogus development plan that five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court refused to question when the property owners of New London pleaded to have their homes spared from the wrecking ball,” noted John Kramer of the Institute for Justice, the libertarian public interest law firm that represented Ms. Kelo and also filed a brief supporting the Pappas family in their related case, here in Las Vegas.

“Now, more than four years after the redevelopment scheme passed constitutional muster — allowing government to take land from one private owner only to hand that land over to another private party who happens to have more political influence — the plant that had been the magnet for the development is closing its doors and the very land where Susette Kelo’s home once stood remains barren to all but feral cats, seagulls and weeds,” Mr. Kramer wrote Monday.

(As part of its final settlement, the city of New London paid to have the Kelo home disassembled and moved elsewhere in the city. Most of the other homes and buildings on the 90-acre site were demolished.)

Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo case for the Institute for Justice, said, “Today’s announcement … demonstrates the folly of government plans that involve massive corporate welfare and that abuse eminent domain for private development. The majority opinion in Kelo v. New London described the Fort Trumbull project as a ‘carefully considered’ plan, but it has been an unmitigated disaster from start — and now — to finish.”

Bullock continued, “Project supporters blame the economic downturn for this turn of events. That is all the more reason why taxpayer dollars should not be put at risk in speculative and risky development schemes.”

Whether intended or not, much good was to eventually come from the wrongheaded Kelo ruling.

Dana Berliner, a senior attorney with the IJ and co-counsel in the Kelo case, points out “In the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling, 43 states have now reformed their laws to better protect property owners. What’s more, seven state high courts have stepped in post-Kelo to protect the rights of homeowners against eminent domain abuse.”

Here in Nevada, the local case that led voters to enact the PISTOL initiative — the People’s Initiative to Stop the Taking of our Lands, spearheaded by former District Judge Don Chairez and local eminent domain attorney Kermit Waters — was the Pappas case.

Caliope “Carol” Pappas, 81, widow of John Pappas, died here Oct. 22, bringing an end of sorts to the saga.

During the Second World War, Mrs. Pappas recalled that her family’s property was taken by the Nazis.

“After the war everyone wanted to come to American where we thought our freedom and our property were secure,” Mrs. Pappas said after the property seizure. “Where the Nazis stole our property at the point of a bayonet, here they do it with eminent domain. …”

Following her husband’s death in 1981, Mrs. Pappas’ income here was from the local properties in which she and her husband had invested, primarily a downtown block along Las Vegas Boulevard just south of Fremont Street.
But then-mayor Jan Jones and the Las Vegas City Council seized that property under eminent domain in 1993, Mayor Jones famously telling Mrs. Pappas, “You’ve had the property long enough. Time to give someone else a turn.”

Mrs. Pappas had to stand peering through a chain-link fence as the businesses, which provided her with more than $60,000 a year in rental income, were bulldozed.

The city offered $380,000, then $480,000, for a block which was zoned for “unlimited gaming.”

As in the Kelo case, eminent domain was used to grab the land not for some needed bridge or firehouse — the traditional justifications for the power — but rather to transfer the property to other, better-connected private owners — in this case, a consortium of downtown casino owners organizing the Fremont Street Experience LLC.

This private combine built a parking garage on the site, though the garage proved unnecessary for tourists visiting the Fremont Street attraction, leading the Pappas family to speculate the real reason for the seizure was to prevent construction of a competing casino on the family’s land, as Bob Snow of Florida had been blocked from doing just a few years before.

After an 11-year court battle, the city in 2004 ended up paying $4.5 million for the supposedly “$380,000” property.

“The Pappas family used to get invited to these ‘Las Vegas pioneer’ dinners,” recalled her son, Harry. “After the eminent domain, those invitations stopped coming. Her health was never the same after that.”

“That thing sat 90 percent empty for years,” Harry told the Review-Journal. “They didn’t need parking. That’s just the B.S. they fed the public.”

“Our founders certainly weren’t thinking of casinos when they wrote the words ‘public use,’” observes Dana Berliner of the IJ, which declared the Pappas case among the top 10 abuses of eminent domain, nationwide.

The bad publicity generated by the Pappas case, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court but was rejected in favor of “Kelo v. City of New London,” finally forced the city of Las Vegas to abandon eminent domain in situations where land is transferred from one private party to another, even in the name of redevelopment.

2 Comments to “Eminent domain? ‘Never mind’”

  1. Eric C. Sanders Says:

    More additions to the teetering stack of evidence that United States Incorporated is “ruled” by the best government money can buy.

  2. George Rusling Says:

    The U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of “Kelo v. City of New London,” ruled correctly because the point of law was whether the Connecticut Constitution (not the U.S. Constitution) allowed such a taking. In fact, it did.

    This is much the same argument as the Court ruled on in the 2000 Florida Presidential election. The Florida Constitution said the Secretary of State was to decide when the count and recount was complete. She had done so, and all the U.S. Supreme Court actually did was affirm the Florida State Constitution, and end the ongoing argument.

    What’s bad about both these SCOTUS decisions is that neither recognized or affirmed the true authority, the different “State” Constitutions. Of course, doing so would have reaffirmed “States Rights” and recertified the 10th Amendment so, is anyone really surprised that a Court which has routinely ignored BOTH for well over a century failed to note the proper authority???