When Susette Kelo painted her house the color of Pepto-Bismol, she probably expected some attention. But she never dreamed what would happen next.
In 1997, Kelo bought a 100-year-old riverside cottage in New London, Connecticut. She had her dream house painted pink and settled in.
Shortly after, city officials came knocking. They told her a big pharmaceutical manufacturer was coming to New London. The officials believed the company’s arrival would revive the city. To improve nearby land, developers planned acres of offices, restaurants, and shopping. They said Kelo’s blushing bungalow would have to make way for progress.
But Kelo didn’t want to leave. Determined, the city invoked eminent domain.
Eminent domain is a government’s right to seize private property for public use. It’s legal as long as the government reimburses owners fairly.
Kelo and other area homeowners challenged the city. Kelo knew eminent domain could be used to take homes for public uses such as roads or military bases—but she and the others thought the city’s plan shouldn’t count.
Kelo fought the system. She kept losing. Finally, Kelo asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let her keep her pink house.
In 2005, five of the nine justices agreed with New London’s use of eminent domain. Kelo and the New London homeowners lost the case.
Backlash over the decision was intense. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens calls it the most unpopular decision he ever wrote. Justice Antonin Scalia ranked it among the court’s biggest mistakes. The verdict seems anything but “right judgment.” (John 7:24) In fact, the result was so unpopular and so alarming that more than 20 states made their eminent domain laws stricter to avoid similar outcomes.
Kelo’s pink house now stands on Franklin Street in New London. City officials tried to smooth things over by disassembling it and moving it. A sign proclaims it “The Kelo House.” But Kelo doesn’t live there.
Today, her former property is a vacant lot. The planned retail village never happened. And the big company promising jobs and prosperity left after five years.
Susette Kelo’s story doesn’t just sound like a movie. The “Little Pink House” played in theaters this spring. Filmmakers hope the story will get people thinking about eminent domain.
Those with bulldozed homes have thought plenty about it. Kelo says city and state officials “ripped our hearts out.” Another homeowner was less sentimental in a National Review interview. He calls New London’s eminent domain case “robbery in the guise of economic development.”