March 5, 2018 Print

In June 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States delivered the infamous ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. Now, thirteen years later, the efforts of Susette Kelo and the Institute for Justice (IJ) — an Atlas Network partner dedicated to defending individual rights in court — will be portrayed in the upcoming feature film Little Pink House.

In 2000, the small town of New London in Connecticut approved an economic development plan that was projected to create in excess of 1,000 jobs, increase tax revenue, and revitalize what was considered to be a blighted area. New London then used its eminent domain authority to seize private property to sell to private developers.

Susette Kelo and others whose property was seized sued New London in state court. The property owners argued the city violated the Fifth Amendment's takings clause, which guaranteed that government will not take private property for public use without just compensation. Specifically, the property owners argued taking private property to sell to private developers did not constitute public use. IJ took up the case and represented Susette Kelo. Scott G. Bullock, who today serves as the president and general counsel of IJ, argued the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of Kelo.

Starring two-time Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener and Emmy nominee Jeanne Tripplehorn and featuring cameos of several IJ staffers, Little Pink House captures the real-life drama of IJ’s work — and the courage all IJ clients share in fighting for their rights against seemingly insurmountable odds. 

Little Pink House wonderfully captures what the fight for property rights is all about,” said Bullock. “A house is typically someone’s most valuable asset. But the value of a home goes well beyond its mere monetary worth. For so many, it’s an extension of who they are and what they value. It’s where a person might raise a family, grow a small business, celebrate, mourn, and grow old in. Eminent domain abuse, like that depicted in this film, is not only unconstitutional — it is profoundly wrong. Little Pink House vividly captures the heroic struggle of Susette and her neighbors to not only fight for their homes but for the property rights of millions of others in America and throughout the world.”

In a 5-4 decision of Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London’s seizure of private property for private development constituted a legal taking according to the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment; government may seize private property through eminent domain solely for economic development, which expanded what previously was considered to be “public use.”

“Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissenting opinion of the decision. “Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not.”

The decision in Kelo v. City of New London sparked a nationwide backlash: 44 states reformed their laws to provide greater protection for property owners, and nine state supreme courts made it more difficult for the government to abuse eminent domain.

The Cato Institute produced a video ten years after the Kelo v. City of New London decision explaining the case and examining the decision’s lasting effects.

Little Pink House will premiere in theaters nationwide this spring.

Listen to the oral arguments from Kelo v. City of New London.