Woman at center of eminent domain case visits New Hampshire: She urges voters to pass new amendment 


September 22, 2006


By Anne Saunders [email protected]

The Associated Press

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A Connecticut woman ordered to move after a controversial land-taking decision by the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday urged New Hampshire voters to pass a constitutional amendment this fall protecting property owners.

"A man's home is his castle, and it is simply wrong to take that from anyone, especially for the purpose of 'economic development,' whatever that might be," said Susette Kelo of New London, Connecticut, the lead plaintiff in the federal decision.

Last year's decision put the national spotlight on New Hampshire when property-rights advocates petitioned to seize the Weare home of Justice David Souter, who had supported the majority decision.

Town voters refused to support the plan, but anger over the ruling led to changes in state law and a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent land from being taken for private use or development, as happened to Kelo. Voters statewide will decide on the constitutional change in November.

To draw attention to the vote, lawyer Charles Douglas, a former New Hampshire Supreme Court justice, arranged to have Kelo visit the state and tell her story.

She also has spoken against the Supreme Court decision in Washington, D.C. and other states.

Kelo described the love and care she lavished on what was a run-down cottage when she bought it.
"I spent every spare moment fixing up and creating the kind of home I always dreamed of," she said.

And she described the shock and anger she felt when she found a sheriff's letter taped to her door declaring her property had been seized.

From there, the case ground slowly through local courts before she and the other plaintiffs lost before the nation's highest court.

In Kelo v. New London, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow public agencies to use eminent domain to take private properties for economic development.

Kelo and her neighbors had to sell their properties to make way for a private developer who planned to build offices, a hotel and conference center.

Since then, 30 state legislatures have enacted statutes or constitutional amendments to restrict eminent domain, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Where there was a public vote, the measures passed overwhelmingly, and more states -- though not Connecticut -- are considering voter initiatives this fall.

"If you don't think your home is at risk, remember, neither did I just eight years ago," Kelo said.

Kelo will get $442,000 for her property and has agreed to move her house to a new location in New London. She has until next June 15 to vacate under the agreement.



Copyright 2006, Concord Monitor.