A small-town nurse named Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener) emerges as the reluctant leader of her working-class neighbors in their struggle to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on seizing the land and handing it over to Pfizer Corporation.
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I was working on my MBA with a concentration in Real Estate in 2005 when this case was decided by the US Supreme Court. In fact, I was taking a real estate law course, and I was riveted to this case (Kelo vs City of New London). I read every word of the actual Supreme Court opinions. Normally, the Supreme Court "gets it right", but in this case, the Supreme Court screwed up royally. Now, most ordinary people don't pay much attention to the Supreme Court's decisions, but this is one that could potentially almost any and every American, and it's important education. This movie should be required viewing for everyone. Thankfully, it is historically and factually accurate. By the way, I always thought it ironic and a stroke of cosmic luck for Pfizer corporation, because it wasn't really Suzette Kelo vs New London, it was, for all practical purposes, Kelo vs the big, bad corporate bully, Pfizer, who ended building.....nothing on the land they stole from the homeowners.
A beautifully done movie telling a true story of eminent domain and its effect on real people trying to live a good life. The heroic work on this case by Institute for Justice lawyer Scott Bullock brought a terrible injustice against Suzette Kelo to national attention, and the movie tells the story compellingly. Though the Supreme Court case was lost, the reaction to the outcome in many states to reform eminent domain made the Kelo case a de facto win. Happily, IJ continues to litigate for those who could not afford to defend their rights, and has an amazing track record! This movie is a great example of how art can gently educate and move us. I gave copies to my loved ones for Christmas.
Little Pink House is an excellent film that shows how the forces of government--allied with corrupt members of the Supreme Court--ruined a woman's life by taking her home. Susette Kelo was not the only victim of the scam, but by focusing on her story, the film dramatizes the way in which corruption has spread throughout our government.
The maxim "hard cases make bad law" is a sound tenet of jurisprudence. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr used it from time to time in explaining why some appeals cases should not be accepted when the case or the arguments in the case would result in confounding precedents for future cases. That was the problem in Kelo v. New London. Susette Kelo and her neighbors were used by the Institute for Justice in an attempt to shift the meaning of the takings clause in the fifth amendment based on a sentimental argument about home-and-hearth limiting the governments powers of eminent domain. In this matter she and her neighbors were cynically used by lawyers with the Institute for Justice who were trying to make it a sound like a case about the rich vs the poor. When the IJ offered to take the case for free the homeowners should have understood there was something fishy - almost no one does anything for free, least of all a bunch of highly paid attorneys. There was a much better case to be made that would have better served the homeowners - I'll come back to that in a bit.
I was a Connecticut resident during the course of this case and followed it with considerable interest almost from the start. I've a few comments about the movie's veracity. First I allow that the whole plan for redevelopment was a boondoggle, bad ideas bad financial projections, improbable expectations and entirely too much political exchange of favors. That notwithstanding it was a LAWFUL boondoggle. The redevelopment agency followed legal procedure and was not high-handed in the ways shown in the film. They didn't just slap condemnations on the properties, they didn't bully or burn anyone out. They did frequently act without reasonable transparency about what they were doing. Connecticut sunshine law is rather weak but the homeowners could have used the secretive maneuvering and failures to disclose pertinent information to bolster and probably win handsomely in a civil case based on the PROPER ground for legal action in the fifth amendment, namely the requirement for "just compensation".
Had this case been pursued in the interest of the homeowners it would have been about just compensation as follows: Once the redevelopment agency started to make tender offers the homeowners should have sought representation regarding the offers. These were decent little homes on very very special lots. They were on the Thames River, sheltered from the weather of Long Island Sound, scenic, idyllic - there were even fish runs in the river. The arguments to be made based on just compensation would have started with the right to be made whole. That meant the compensations should have been at least enough to purchase comparable homes on comparable sites within a reasonable distance of the original area. Such sites were available in the area, in particular because the US Navy had been downsizing the New London submarine base creating a good buyer's market. Second the compensation should have included the full cost of moving residents. In addition they would have been reasonable to seek some moderate additional compensation for inconvenience, social impact and sentimental attachments. These would have been JUST compensation and the lives of the residents would not have been damaged and might have even been slightly improved. There is another claim they might have pressed, too. If the redevelopment project was a big success then the land under their homes would have wound up much more valuable in its new use(s). The homeowners could have reasonably argued that this would be a windfall value added to their former land and it would have been unjust for the windfall to accrue only to the new owners when it was by accomplished by force of eminent domain. Accordingly a fraction of the windfall value should have been part of their claim for just compensation.
If Kelo et al had pursued this as a civil matter by filing counter-claims in response to the tender offers and assessments from the redevelopment agency then the agency would have had to either make them whole at a considerably higher price or risk having the whole thing tied up in court as a civil suit. In the event of a civil suit it would have been a bunch of sympathetic private parties versus a much disliked government agency. The home owners could almost certainly gotten a jury trial in the matter. At that point, the prospects would have been grim for the city and its agency. I expect New London would have dropped the project would have settled for paying attorneys fees and modest compensation for inconvenience to the homeowners. If New London really thought the project was worth the effort, though a jury would have assured generous compensation to Kelo et al.
The Institute for Justice adopted a name that sounds like some great liberal institution. In actual fact, this suit and others they pursue are more on the libertarian right seeking to hamstring governments legitimate powers. They represented themselves as sympathetic defenders of common folk and led Kelo et al down a path that was not in their best interest and where the jurisprudence was already pretty clear. In my opinion this was malpractice hiding behind a lot of sympathetic sounding misrepresentation.
This is the human story of the woman who fought to save her "little pink house" by the water, in a working class neighborhood destroyed by Pfizer on the promise they'd build a massive research complex that would revitalize the economy of New London. It didn't. (Pfizer never built the facility, residents weren't always paid full value for homes.) Learn about the people who were impacted, the woman who took her fight for her home to the Supreme Court, and the Institute for Justice that tried to defend everyone's property rights from the abuse of eminent domain for the sake of "economic development".
The book Little Pink House is the definitive story of Kelo vs. New London. This movie brings the human impact of eminent domain abuse to a general audience in an entertaining way, without dumbing down the story or the issues.