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Westmoreland

New film focuses on Hempfield grad's legal battle

Joe Napsha
| Friday, May 11, 2018, 10:42 p.m.
Scott Bullock
Scott Bullock

When Scott Bullock was a student at Hempfield Area High School in the early 1980s, he wanted to be a lawyer, but he never dreamed of one day arguing a landmark case before the Supreme Court, let alone being portrayed in a film.

Yet, Bullock, 50, president of the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va., is one of the focal points of the new film “Little Pink House.”

The independent film details the battle that a group of New London, Conn., homeowners in a working class neighborhood waged against the city after it tried to use eminent domain to take private land for economical development. Bullock, through the Institute for Justice, argued for the property owners and against the use of eminent domain in a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that he lost in a 5-4 ruling.

“Little Pink House wonderfully captures what the fight for property rights is all about. A house is typically someone's most valuable asset, but the value of a home goes well beyond its mere monetary worth,” Bullock said.

The lead plaintiff and property owner, Susette Kelo, “was determined not to let the government bully her,” said Bullock, a 1984 graduate of Hempfield Area High School.

“It was a classic case of David vs. Goliath,” said Bullock, comparing the property owners' fight to the biblical confrontation of young David against the giant Goliath.

Bullock contended the federal courts had jurisdiction because the use of eminent domain in this matter, regardless of whether the pubic good was served by creating more jobs and tax revenue, violated the property owners' Fifth Amendment rights. Bullock lost because “liberal-leaning” Supreme Court justices sided with the city government to permit the taking of the property for economic development purposes.

“This is exactly what I wanted to do with the law,” Bullock said of fighting to protect individual liberty.

Ironically, New London has not reaped any benefits from its court victory because the property that was to be a shiny new development to benefit pharmaceutical giant Pfizer remains a barren field.

Although he lost the Supreme Court battle, Bullock said his clients won the war over using eminent domain for private use because “it touched offer a furor that led to very positive changes.”

“It really underscored the need to change the law to protect private property rights,” said Bullock, who is a graduate of Grove City College and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Forty-four states, included Pennsylvania, changed their laws regarding eminent domain, Bullock said.

“Pennsylvania had a terrible eminent domain law for many years,” Bullock said.

Still, the Institute for Justice, where Bullock has worked for the past 26 years, stated that more reforms are still needed if the abuse of this government power is to be ended once and for all.

Closer to home, Bullock represented property owners that were against Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy using eminent domain in 1999 to revitalize the Fifth and Forbes retail corridor and Market Square by razing about seven blocks in that downtown district. That would have paved the way for new development.

The independent film has opened nationwide and has earned the Jimmy Stewart Legacy Award, named after the movie star from Indiana, Pa.

“The did a very nice job with the film,” which was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Bullock said.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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