Following the United States’ Supreme Court 2005 decision in Kelo v. New London, a number of states passed laws designed to protect homeowners and others from the arbitrary taking of property by government for ill-defined purposes of “economic development.” Louisiana’s 2006 constitutional amendment forbids the government from taking someone’s home for another’s private gain. Only a “general public right to a definite use of the property” can legally justify such an expropriation.
Many New Orleans homeowners are still angry about the move by the state and city to destroy their rebuilt homes in favor of a new hospital complex. Proponents of the project emphasize its potential for economic development. A private institution, Tulane University, will have a hand in running the hospital along with the state and LSU.
Yes, presumably somewhere on the planned hospital campus there will be an emergency room open to the public, a “general public right to definite use.” But the predecessor institution, Charity Hospital, featured that same general public right. Yet, Charity has been shuttered for nearly five years; even though Gen. Russel Honore had the place cleaned out and ready to stand up just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina passed through town. Had Charity been reopened in a timely manner (or even an untimely manner), there would be precious little legal justification to take away homes from people who worked so hard to rebuild them since 2005.
The FEMA money to reopen Charity is finally in state hands, but even more money is needed to build this new hospital complex. Though the additional money is not there yet, many government officials are eager to start bulldozing peoples’ homes for the new project. If they get too far ahead of themselves, they risk following another precedent set by Kelo — after a decade-plus of special tax breaks, contentious legal battles, and the taking and bulldozing of family homes; Pfizer, Inc. decided they didn’t want to build the research complex on the land after all. At the very least, officials could avoid following in those footsteps by refraining from destroying anyone’s home until the financing has actually come through.