George Leef’s latest column for Forbes focuses on the 10-year anniversary of the Kelo decision’s attack on private property rights.

The dispute was extremely important in the continuing struggle to protect property rights against government encroachment.

Under the Fifth Amendment, governments may take private property, but only if it is done for “public use” and if the owner is paid just compensation. But what if the government wanted to take your property simply to transfer it to another person or organization because politicians thought you weren’t making the best use of it? That is what happened when the New London Development Corporation wanted to seize the homes of Suzette Kelo and several others in 1999.

New London didn’t need their land for a road or bridge that the public would use. Instead, it wanted their land as part of a redevelopment plan worked out in conjunction with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Could the government seize and destroy homes that people wanted to remain in just because the big new complex envisioned was supposed to create jobs and bring in more tax revenue? Are such takings for “public use” under the Fifth Amendment?

Ilya Somin’s new book The Grasping Hand tells the story of the legal battle in fascinating detail. Somin, a professor of law at George Mason University, succinctly recounts the facts that many readers will remember, but adds a great deal of additional detail to show many ugly but unknown truths about it. Readers discover that the case was much “dirtier” than it first appeared to be.