George Lefcoe

Document Type



Little Pink House is a fast paced account by Jeff Benedict of the events surrounding the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London. At the core of the tale is how Kelo and a handful of her neighbors challenged the New London Development Corporation’s (“NLDC”) use of eminent domain for the economic redevelopment of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. A libertarian-inspired public interest law firm named the Institute for Justice (“IJ”) agreed to represent the beleaguered property owners. IJ challenged the notion that economic development could be regarded as a public use. IJ also unfurled an effective national public relations campaign against what it dubs eminent domain abuse. Benedict gives us front row seats to see how the media drama unfolded. Though IJ triumphed in the court of public opinion, it lost the Kelo case in the Connecticut and U.S. Supreme Courts. A majority of judges in both courts flatly rejected IJ’s contention that takings for economic development were not for a public use. This Book Review spotlights four important aspects of the Kelo back story that have been largely overlooked. First, IJ’s masterful media campaign accentuated NLDC’s shortcomings while dismissing its sizable accomplishments in the rehabilitation of Fort Trumbull. Second, most of the disputed properties were being acquired to widen roads, a prototypical public use. This Book Review explains why New London’s counsel chose not to rely on this fact in making its case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Third, the trial court had ruled in favor of Kelo and some of the other plaintiffs in their eminent domain challenge. Kelo was forced out after IJ decided to appeal this decision and lost on appeal. The appeal enabled IJ to keep the Kelo dispute in the public eye, a good thing for a public interest law firm like IJ that needs to raise funds for its cause. But the appeal resulted in a reversal of the trial court’s opinion that would have allowed Kelo to keep her house. Readers can assess for themselves whether the decision to appeal was taken in a professionally responsible way. Fourth, Kelo and the other plaintiffs ended up negotiating hefty settlements with the Governor of Connecticut that were two to three times fair market value, the basis on which most of the other property owners in Fort Trumbull were compensated. This Book Review details the extent of over compensation, and how it came about. The author obtained much of the information in this paper through interviews and correspondence with New London officials and attorneys over a period of several years.