by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
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. …
… Stevens’ principal defense of Kelo is that he had no choice, that his hands were tied. For one thing, he writes in The Making of a Justice, the Supreme Court “had a duty to give deference” to “the state courts’ evaluation of the particular development plan that gave rise to the litigation.” He is referring to the Connecticut Supreme Court’s 2004 decision allowing the use of eminent domain to proceed against Susette Kelo and a number of her neighbors.
What Stevens neglects to mention is that Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard M. Palmer, one of the four justices who voted against the homeowners and thus directly precipitated their appeal to SCOTUS, personally apologized to Susette Kelo in 2010, saying he “would have voted differently” if only he knew better at the time.