Can Government Take What It Wants?

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Here in these United States, several years ago, some everyday, working-class people in Connecticut were told they had to give up their homes and move out because some rich developers, who were coincidentally friends (and financial supporters) of the local politicians, wanted the property.

The homeowners, backed by the admirable and heroic Institute for Justice, fought back. These are our homes, they said, and no one should have the right to just take them, no matter how much money they offer, if we don’t want to leave. The case went to the US Supreme Court, and they lost, 5–4. This is the Kelo case, named for Susette Kelo, who fought against the local government’s taking of her home.

Unfortunately, one of the gravest of errors is part of the Constitution. It is called “eminent domain,” and it says governments may indeed take private property, but “for public use.” Not, it should be clear, so that rich developers can become richer — though the excuse given by the politicians is that more expensive properties will bring in higher revenues to the local government.

I am dumbfounded by the similarities of the situations: very rich developers trying to use their connections to governments, and the governments’ component politicians, to grab homes from working-class people in order to get richer.

In the Kelo case, the land thus stolen by local government and intended to be “rehabilitated” to provide more money for that government to throw around, is, after all these years, still unoccupied, unused, and littered with trash.

The Castle, an Australian “comedy-drama” about a similar taking by government, was released in 1997. The Kelo decision was rendered in 2005. Seeing The Castle in 2020, I am dumbfounded by the similarities of the situations: very rich developers trying to use their connections to governments, and the governments’ component politicians, to grab homes from working-class people in order to get richer.

“You can’t fight City Hall” is not an accepted truism to the protagonists of this movie or the real-life Kelo case. Naively, they did fight, believing that being in the right, believing that having justice on their side, would lead to victory.

The Castle is a wonderful film, filled with likable people, quirky though they might be. They are decent people. They are good people. They are loving people.

How good, decent, working-class people take on Leviathan can be serious and disturbing, as in Little Pink House, which is about the Kelo decision, or funny and inspiriting, as in The Castle.

I highly recommend The Castle, which can be rented on YouTube.

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