Little Pink House REVIEW
This movie illustrates to me the power of a movie to get a story into people’s consciousness and the limitations of a movie to get the *whole* story in there. The story focuses on the experience of a woman who owns a home along the river in New London, Connecticut. The state of Connecticut and the city of New London would like to entice a large pharmaceutical company to come build a complex there and they need Susette Kelo’s house torn down to accommodate their plans. At the heart of the legal question is whether or not the public is entitled to take someone’s property (with compensation) for a public purpose (like economic development) and not just for a public project (like a bridge). More specifically, can it take property from one person or corporation and give it to a second because the second would raise substantially more tax revenue for the public?
The movie makes it clear that Susette Kelo was a likable woman and was attached to her house and believed strongly that it was a violation of her rights to property to take her house and demolish it – for any amount of money.
While a few minutes of the movie brings us into the Supreme Court debate, much is left out.
What is particularly interesting to me is the ironic make-up of the majority and minority decision. The movie leaves you with the impression that powerful moneyed interests (i.e. Republicans) got their way again at the expense of the little guy. What is interesting is that the Supreme Court was not aligned as you might suspect in this case (Republican appointees on the side of Pfiezer and Democratic appointees on the side of Susette Kelo).
Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Bader Ginsburg, and Breyer all voted in favor of the City of New London and Pfiezer here (we suspect that they saw the economic benefit that the redevelopment would have on a struggling impoverished community). The dissenting justices (O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas) were all Republican appointees. “Something has gone seriously awry with this Court's interpretation of the Constitution,” Thomas wrote, “Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not.” Thomas continued his argument by saying that the Fifth Amendment allows government to take property only if the government intends to own the property or to let the public to use it. This was an originalist position.
In short, if the conservative leaning justices had another federalist society “originalist” on their side instead of an activist judge on the other, Susette Kelo would have gotten to keep her home and Pfeizer would have had to build around it. As the case was won by New London’s lawyers, that did not happen, But ironies did not end with the decision’s outcome. The City of New London offered to move Susette Kelo’s house to another location in the city. It spent some 75 million dollars to get Pfeizer to move in but Pfeizer merged with Wyeth (how my brother wound up working for Pfeizer) and the company decided that they did not need the facilities any more.
The movie ends with a shot of Suzette Kelo standing in front of the empty lot where her house used to be (the film neglects to tell you that it was moved for her not destroyed) giving you the impression that Pfeizer and a corrupt republican governor (who is shown reading about the decision from his jail cell) had destroyed her house for the sheer fun of it.
It is a movie that makes me wonder if movies about 5-4 court case decisions are a good idea. Maybe a documentary would have been the better way to go.
Question for Comment: which side of this case would you have voted on?