Susette Kelo

Opening Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Eminent Domain

delivered 20 September 2005

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

I want to thank Chairman Specter and the rest of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the opportunity to testify about legislation to cut off funding to government that abuses eminent domain law.

My name is Susette Kelo and I live in New London, Connecticut. And I am the Kelo in the Kelo versus the City of New London -- the now-infamous United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that private property, including my home, could be taken by another private party who promises to create more jobs and taxes with the land.

I sincerely hope that Congress will do what judges and local legislators so far have refused to do for me and for thousands of people like me across the -- the nation: protect our homes under a plain reading of the United States Constitution. Federal lawmakers should pass legislation that will withhold federal development funding for cities that abuse eminent domain for private development -- such as the one that could take my home, which received 2 million dollars in federal funds. What we have now at the local, state, and federal level amounts to "government by the highest bidder."

That has got to stop.

Susette Kelo's home in New London, CT circa 2005. Photo credit: AP/Jack Sauer. Original image contrast and color enhaned.

I would like to tell you a little more of my story so you can hopefully see why the law needs to be changed. In 1997, I searched all over for a -- for a home and finally found this perfect little Victorian cottage with beautiful views of the water. I was working then as a paramedic and was overjoyed I was able to find a beautiful little place I could afford on my salary. I spent every spare moment fixing it up and creating the kind of home I had always dreamed of; and I painted it salmon pink, because that was my favorite color.

In 1998, a real estate agent came by and made me an offer on the house on behalf of the -- of an unnamed buyer. I explained to her that I was not interested in selling, but she said that my home would be taken by eminent domain if I refused to sell. She told me stories of her relatives who had lost their home to eminent domain. Her advice? Give up. The government always wins.

So why did the City of -- and the New London Development Corporation [NLDC] want to kick us out? To make way for the luxury hotel[s], upscale condos, and other private developments that could bring in more taxes to the City and possibly create more jobs. The poor and middle class had to make way for the rich and politically connected. As quickly as the NLDC acquired homes in my neighborhood, they came in and demolished them, with no regard for the remaining residents who lived there, most of whom were elderly.

In late 1999, after graduating from nursing school, I -- I became a registered nurse and began working at Backus hospital in Southeastern Connecticut. Early in 2000, the public hearings were  eventually held, and the Fort Trumbull plan was finalized. Our home was not part of the -- that plan. And by that time, I had met a man who shared my dreams and the two of us spent our spare time and money fixing up our home. We got a couple of dogs. We planted some flowers. I braided rugs. We found a lot of antiques [which] were just perfect for our home; and Tim, who is a stone mason, did all kinds of work -- stone work around the house.

When I first bought it, it had been run down. Today it is [a] beautiful home.

On the day before Thanksgiving in 2000, the sheriff taped a letter to my door stating that my home had been condemned by the City of New London and the NLDC. We did not have a very pleasant holiday, and each Thanks -- Thanksgiving since has been bittersweet: happy that we are all still in our homes, but afraid we could be thrown out any day.

The following month, the Institute for Justice agreed to represent us. Without them, none of us would be here today. None of us could have afforded the tremendous legal costs that would have been incurred over the years.

A year later, in 2001, we went to trial in New London, and after [hearing] 10 different reasons for why our homes had been seized -- from so-called "park support," to roads, to museums, to warehousing -- the judge decided no one could give him a straight answer, and he overturned the
demolition sentences to our homes.

One night in -- in late October 2002, I was working in the hospital as -- in the emergency room when a trauma call -- trauma code had been called and a man who had been in a car accident was wheeled through the trauma room. And to my horror, after several minutes of working alongside Dr. Wesolek [ph] and nurses, I realized it was my partner Tim. For two weeks he lay in a coma and we did not know if he would live or die. And finally he pulled through, and although permanently disabled, it was a miracle he was finally able to walk out alive two months later.

While he was still hospitalized, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard our case. And awhile later, after Tim was well enough, we made it official by getting married. We still had no idea if we would keep our home, as the Connecticut court would take 15 months to reach a decision. When they ruled against us by a 4-to-3 decision, we were stunned.

Movie Speech from Little Pink House: Susette Kelo Addresses Supporters

Our lives were on hold for another year as we waited for the United States Supreme Court to hear our case. We [had] hopes that the Supreme Court would protect our homes, but one by one, they let us all down -- all the Americans down.

My neighborhood was not blighted. It was a nice neighborhood where we -- people were close. Even though many of our homes had been destroyed, the -- the people that are remaining are still neighbors and good friends. And we don't want to leave.

None of us asked for this. We simply were living our lives, working and taking care of our families and paying our taxes. The City may have narrowly won the battle on eminent domain, but the war remains in Fort Trumbull and just -- and across the nation.

What is happening to me should not happen to anyone. Congress and state legislatures need to send a message to local governments that this kind of abuse of power will not be funded or tolerated. Special interests who benefit from this...use of government power -- are working to -- to convince the public and legislatures that -- that there isn't a problem.

But I am living proof that there is a problem.

This battle against eminent domain abuse may have started as a way for me to save my little pink cottage, but has rightfully grown into something much larger: the fight to restore the American Dream and the [sacredness] and security of -- of each one of our homes.

Thank you very much.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

See also: "Little Pink House" [book] [movie]

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Original Image #2 Source (screenshot): Little Pink House (film)

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Page Updated: 10/29/20

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