When Susette Kelo bought her dream home in New London, Connecticut, she didn't expect a private development corporation to show up under city auspices and demand that she turn her property over for redevelopment.
But that's exactly what happened, forcing Kelo and several neighbors to sue for relief in a case that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court's ruling, expected this month, could have important ramifications for property owners in Arizona.
At issue is municipal abuse of eminent domain, a constitutional power that lets government take property for "public uses" such as roads. Over the last twenty years, courts have made a mockery of "public use," extending the definition to almost anything that ostensibly has a public benefit, including economic development projects. The Institute for Justice counts 10,282 instances between 1998 and 2002 in which cities have given private property to developers who promise economic benefits (read, greater tax receipts).
In a highly publicized Arizona case, Mesa attempted to confiscate Randy Bailey's brake shop and sell the property for an Ace Hardware store. Wisely, in ruling against Mesa Judge John Gemmill wrote that the Arizona Constitution requires cities to meet a narrow definition of "public use" when invoking eminent domain: "The constitutional requirement of 'public use' is only satisfied when the public benefits and characteristics of the intended use substantially predominate over the private nature of that use."
In deciding Kelo this month, the U.S. Supreme Court should do the same.