Former Supreme Court Justice Defends Kelo Decision
Article from Reason by Damon Root.
John Paul Stevens has had it rough. In 2005, Stevens, then an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, authored one of the worst SCOTUS decisions of the past 50 years. Kelo v. City of New London let a local government bulldoze a working-class neighborhood so that private developers would have a blank slate on which to build a luxury hotel, a conference center, and various other upscale amenities. The city’s goal was to erase that existing community via eminent domain and replace it with a new commercial district that would (maybe? hopefully?) fill the local coffers with more abundant tax dollars.
Stevens, the poor soul, has been catching hell for this lousy ruling ever since. Kelo is “the most un-American thing that can be done,” declared Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, an outspoken liberal. Her ideological opposite, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, has said that Kelo “bastardized” the Constitution. “Government can kick the little guy out of his or her homes and sell those [homes] to a big developer,” Limbaugh objected. Hating Kelo would seem to be the one thing that can bring a divided America together.
In 2011, about a year after he retired from the Supreme Court, Stevens apparently grew tired of the controversy and decided to respond to his critics. “The Kelo majority opinion remains unpopular,” Stevens acknowledged in a speech at the University of Alabama School of Law. “Recently a commenter named Damon W. Root described the decision as the ’eminent domain debacle.” In my defense, I only described Kelo as an eminent debacle because that’s exactly what it is. The destructive ruling paved the way for atrocious real world consequences. It also further mangled the Takings Clause, which forbids the government from using eminent domain for anything less than a legitimate “public use,” a concept that has traditionally been understood to apply to things like roads or bridges—not to swanky redevelopment schemes run by for-profit enterprises. But that constitutional requirement was lost in the eyes of Stevens. “The disposition of this case,” he wrote in Kelo, “turns on the question whether the City’s development plan serves a ‘public purpose.'” Critics like Root, Stevens grumbled in 2011, “mis-described” the case.
Read the entire article at Reason.
Image Credit: Joe Ravi [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons