Commentary on Kelo v. City of New London
In Kelo v. City of New London, a narrowly divided United States Supreme Court sustained as constitutional the condemnation of fifteen homes to further an economic development scheme. One of the most unpopular decisions in Supreme Court history, Kelo provoked public outrage across the political spectrum. The breadth and magnitude of this furor caught many by surprise, including Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion.
The economic development program at issue in Kelo grew out of efforts to revive New London, Connecticut, a small coastal city that in the nineteenth century was one of the nation’s leading whaling ports. Spearheaded by the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), a nonprofit firm that worked closely with state and local officials, the plan called for transforming a 90-acre portion of the waterfront Fort Trumbull neighborhood from a working-class area to a more affluent, upscale one. Also critical to the redevelopment scheme was a commitment by the Pfizer Corporation, a major pharmaceutical company, to construct a research facility on land abutting the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. Pfizer’s involvement in the New London revitalization project was a matter of great controversy, generating accusations – which turned out to be well-founded – of government favoritism toward powerful corporate interests.