Video: Eminent eviction

The Supreme Court ruled that local governments may seize citizens' homes and businesses — even against their will — for private economic development. 

Wesley Horton, the attorney who won an eminent domain case before the Supreme Court representing the city of New London, Connecticut, appeared shortly after the decision on 'The Situation with Tucker Carlson'.

TUCKER CARLSON, 'THE SITUATION' HOST:  The message here seems to be, this could happen to anyone.  Why should I feel secure in my house? 

WESLEY HORTON, LAWYER: Of course, theoretically, it can happen to anyone, because anybody's property could be taken for a road, for example, or for a courthouse. 

CARLSON:  Right.  But this changes it — as I understand, changes the precedent to suggest that a private company could eye my house and say, that's a great spot for a 7/Eleven or a Best Buy and try and take it away. 

HORTON: First of all, as far as the 7/11 hypothetical, the United States Supreme Court didn't go that far.  What they said is, this was a well-planned, comprehensive economic development plan for a whole area and wasn't just targeting one piece of property. 

CARLSON:  OK, a 7/Eleven and a hotel and a casino, say.  But some private developer could take my house away.  Why shouldn't I be terrified?

HORTON: Would you rather have the city be the developer?  I mean, that clearly is proper. It seems to me, if there's a public purpose being involved in what is being done, it doesn't make any difference if it's a private developer that is doing it for the public development, because you know here, the public defender — the public is still going to own the property.  It's being leased to a private developer for 99 years.

But the point is that the developer will be subject to all the terms of the economic development plan.  If the developer goes ahead and builds all these properties and doesn't comply with the plan, the developer is going to be in big trouble. 

CARLSON: I think Justice O'Connor hinted at something like that in her opinion, where she said, there's no guarantee that the private enterprise built on this land will succeed, whereas, if it was taken for a road or a bridge, the public benefit of those is pretty obvious.  But what if this fails? 

HORTON: Anything can not succeed.  Your idea of a road, I don't agree with that at all.  There's supposed to be a ring road around Hartford right now.  And if you look at a map, you won't see a ring road.  There were all sorts of properties that were condemned for that ring road.  Then they decided not to build it. 

CARLSON:  Well, that's hardly an argument for eminent domain. ... Look, the bottom line here,  is this situation seems ripe for abuse by rich developers preying on the poor, the weak and the un-politically connected.  Why shouldn't people who are powerless fear that their land is going to be taken? 

HORTON: You could make that argument about anything that — any condemnation issue.  The point is that you look at each plan as it comes about.  And there isn't any allegation of that in this case.  In fact, the developer that is being considered is from out of state ... and it's the city that has come up with a plan, not some developer.

CARLSON:  But I think this strikes some people as most people, I believe, as unfair.  These people didn't do anything wrong, these homeowners.  There was no suggestion that they weren't keeping up their houses.  They weren't blighted.  They were just going about their lives and, boom, from out of nowhere, someone else decided he had a better idea for their land.  Doesn't that seem unfair to you? 

HORTON:  You know, Mr. Berman said the same thing in 1954.  He was the one in the District of Columbia who owned a non-blighted department store in a blighted area. And they took his property, as well as all the blighted properties.  And he said, well, my property isn't blighted.  Why take mine?  And the Supreme Court said, because we need to redevelop the whole area.  It's the same thing.  People that are complaining are complaining about precedent that has been around for a long, long time. 

CARLSON:  Well, I think Mr. Berman had a pretty good point, don't you?  Don't you see the fundamental unfairness of it, if you're being punished for something you didn't do? 

HORTON:  Well, but you're being punished, in your words, if you're talking about taking it for a road. The question is whether there is a difference between a road and other things that are just as much in a public interest.  If a city is dying, as the state of Connecticut has said that New London is an economically-depressed city, it seems to me that it's certainly in the public interest to do something about an economically-depressed city to bring it back and put it on the map. 

CARLSON:  And that may be right.  I guess, Mr. Horton, what I'm looking for is an acknowledgement that real people, individuals, are being hurt in this. 


CARLSON:  What would you stay them?  To [New London resident] Wilhelmina Dery, for instance, whose family has been in their house, as you know, since 1901.  She was born there.  This must be crushing to her.  How would explain this for her?

HORTON:  I understand. I don't deny that this is terrible for the individual plaintiffs.  It's terrible for any individual plaintiffs who have their property taken for the public good.  That's the same argument you'd make if you were taking it for a road or anything else. 

CARLSON:  But can you give me the three sentences you would say to her to make her feel better about this? 

HORTON:  Yes.  I would say, it's too that bad your property has been taken.  All I can say to you, ma'am, is, it's being taken for the public interest and New London, as a whole, will be better for it. 

CARLSON:  OK.  Well, I hope that makes her feel better.  Wesley Horton, congratulations on your victory, anyway. 

HORTON:  Thank you very much.

CARLSON:  Even if I disagree with the outcome.  Thanks a lot.

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