Pop Culture Trend Alert:

My friend and fellow lawprof Rick Garnett, who teaches at Notre Dame, writes:

Here's an e-mail I got from a student of mine today . . .

I picked my 20 year old sister up from the airport today and she was wearing a fitted ringer t-shirt with a quotation from Justice Thomas' dissenting opinion in Kelo on the front. When I asked her where she got it, she said from "urban outfitters." I thought you . . . would appreciate knowing that Justice Thomas is officially "hip."

Devin McCullen (mail):
I'd be curious to know if it's identified as a Clarence Thomas quote. If not, people could have some fun by asking young folks wearing them if they know who said it.
6.30.2005 7:28pm
jallgor (mail):
Of course true hipsters began mocking urban outfitters years ago when it got too popular and started calling it suburban outfitters. I am not sure what that makes Justice Thomas. Pseudo hip? Wannabe hip? Mass-marketed hipness shove down your throat by the man?
6.30.2005 7:30pm
I was just flipping through the channels on TV and stopped at C-Span where Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) is saying how he believes Kelo is an assault on private property and that Congress must step in to give different meaning to "public use". Of course we've seen all of the discussion on the law blogs about Kelo, but I must say that I am amazed that so much public attention is being paid to a decision that in my mind doesn't change the status quo much (given the deferential review of Midkiff). The T-shirt in the email from Prof. Garnett's student is, it appears to me, emblematic of this public reaction. Moreover, the day after Kelo came down I received a worried email from my brother-in-law based on one article that he read about Kelo and his fear that private property rights were moving fast down the slippery slope. I personally don't have very strong opinions about Kelo, but given Midkiff, I am surprised that the legal community is treating Kelo as a revolution. And I'm even more surprised that the lay public (I don't want that to sound pejorative - sorry if it does) has taken such an interest in the decision (moreso than Van Orden &McCreary it seems).

Ultimately, I like that a large segment of the public is involved in understanding Supreme Court decisions. Moreover, I am glad to see that most of the commentary I've seen has been measured and doesn't resort to histrionics (except one that suggested that Wal-Mart and Target can just demand land now and get it). It's just very interesting sometimes to see what has popular appeal.

Time for me to get back to studying for the bar exam.
6.30.2005 7:32pm
William Spieler (mail) (www):
I'm not sure, but isn't Urban Outfitters owned by a fervent Republican?
6.30.2005 8:11pm
Keith Hilzendeger:
Naturally, I wanted one of these shirts too. But I couldn't find it on their web site (, and I'm not about to drive across town to find one.

Maybe they only sell them in LA?
6.30.2005 8:33pm
Steve R:
myalterego, I think the reason Kelo has grabbed the public conciousness is that most aren't real happy with the use of Eminent Domain to begin with, (all property owners become libertarian when it's their property) and Kelo makes them feel shoved toward the cliff.
6.30.2005 8:34pm
myalterego, respectfully, you are wrong.
Someone once said; "Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean someone is not out to get me." The reason so many people are so upset about Kelo is that so many of us know that when such a door is left ajar for corruption, it will be opened. Let me give you an example. I bought a house in a very nice waterfront neighborhood in Florida a year ago. I bought it as an investment and know because of my job I will only be here for a maximum of four years. Probably a little above my means, but, again, it is an investment. It has already gone up at least 20%. My neighbors on the other hand, bought low and not only that, love their homes and plan on staying here for the rest of their lives. By the way, the Homestead Act of Florida caps the property tax after you have been in place for one year. I know that my property taxes will go up quite a bit this year but will be capped each year from now on. I am willing to live with that increase. By the same token, my neighbors have been Homesteaded for years and pay low property taxes. If they were forced to sell, they could not afford the new baselined taxes on a waterfront home; IF they could afford the new home. Not to mention my situation, since I would not be able to find out if my home continued to appreciate. This decision potentially destroys the American dream of working hard and owning a home. How many developers are plotting even now, to buy our homes at a "fair market value"? After all, there is absolutely no debate that forced selling of all of our waterfront homes would reap a windfall in higher property taxes for the local government. And, the developers stand a great chance at making a bundle. This is just another example of the slow but steady creep of this court away from the meaning of the original constitution. When the courts can whittle away at individual rights that are so obvious, one shudders to think of those rights that are more nuanced.
6.30.2005 8:40pm
Joel B.:

While Kelo is an outrage, I've been amazed in some of the ways that state law can work to protect homeowners. Out here in California, Prop. 13 works much like your homestead tax limitation I imagine. If your property is taken, I believe some provisions of state law allow you to keep the lower tax basis at least to some degree. Eminent Domain is dreadful, but out here in Cal, the state provides some relief (including requiring assistance for moving expenses up to a certain degree I believe).
6.30.2005 8:48pm
I should start out by saying that I am not a lawyer and the question below will most likely point that out.

The question I have is this: What does "just compensation" really mean? Does it mean market value, the amount owed on my mortgage, or just what the organization taking my property wants to pay?

I apologize in advance if this question is somewhat simple but I am curious as to the answer.

Thank you.
6.30.2005 8:56pm
Steve R:
Of course then there is "fair market value". Typically defined as what a willing seller would accept and a willing buyer would pay. In cases of eminent domain, you are almost always dealing with an unwilling seller.

Traditionally, the local government is looking to create some sort of public facility and needs land in a specific place to build it, or from an economic standpoint is looking at a blighted area seeking solutions and uses its power to create parcels which will subsequently be attractive to private sector developers. When a developer can approach local government with a proposal and request their assistance in acquiring the necessary parcel, turning the process on its head, I see property rights being endangered.

Back to T-shirts: This reversed scenario is what wakes up the public, even those who are not property owners, because they fear that the security of their ownership (real or desired) is put in danger.
6.30.2005 9:05pm
Ted Frank (www):
I don't mean to downplay a sister-of-a-student-of-a-friend story, but it seems wildly implausible that Urban Outfitters has for sale a t-shirt with a Justice Thomas dissenting quote within a week of the opinion being published. Even if one orders the shirt from CafePress, it takes five business days to get to you, unless you're ordering it express, which would seem to be a poor business decision for a for-profit store. More likely she got it on-line from CafePress, and didn't want to trouble her brother with the details.
6.30.2005 9:07pm
erp (mail):
I have a simple non-lawyerly concern as well. It seems to me that this ruling is more dangerous because it could force drug rehab centers, safe houses and other NIMBY type uses in residential neighborhoods. Social engineers would be less likely to be concerned with public disapproval than developers who mostly want to be seen as sensitive to community standards.
6.30.2005 9:30pm
Wm Speiler:

I am not sure who currently owns Urban Outfitters. The founder, however, is none other than progressive Judy Wicks of White Dog Cafe (Phila., Pa.) fame. See her bio here.
6.30.2005 10:03pm
joe pa (mail):

You don't really believe this story, do you? Ted Frank has already pointed out why it's pretty obviously wrong. Why did you miss it? Blinded by false hopes, perhaps? Intellectually lazy? And what about this anecdote makes signifies a "trend"? Wishful thinking?

I bought a shirt at Urban Outfitters (note that this story is actually true) that said "I Jesus", except Jesus was crossed out and "Minnesota" was written above it. What "trend" does this signify, pray tell?
6.30.2005 10:22pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The "trend" was a bit of a joke -- of course one item doesn't make a trend, but more importantly Supreme Court lines are highly unlikely to become a pop culture trend in any event. (As to wishful thinking, if you've read my posts on Kelo, you must have seen that I'm not a partisan of Justice Thomas's dissent.)

As to the story, I find it pretty credible. Rick is an honest guy, so I feel quite confident his student did tell him this. And in my experience students rarely pull their professors' legs, so I suspect that the essence of the student's story is accurate. I'm not as sure about the Urban Outfitters detail; people sometimes confuse such things.
6.30.2005 11:41pm
Warmongering Lunatic:
Kelo doesn't change eminent domain law much, true. But what it did was drive home to the public the last century of evolution of eminent domain law. It's accordingly a symbol that actually means "eminent domain for transfers to private owners". Compare Roe v. Wade, which gets used as a symbol of "abortion rights" even when the actual dispute covers a point of abortion not addressed in the case.
7.1.2005 12:03am
kamatoa (mail):
Maybe she got it from here .
7.1.2005 1:04am
Keith Hilzendeger:

You rock. Thanks - I was skeptical at first, but now the mystery is solved.

The shirt just seemed too geeky and not chic enough for Urban Outfitters.
7.1.2005 2:19am
Student Sister of Sister with Shirt:
I assure you I am not clever enough and certainly not funny enough to come up with such a funny anecdote. And 20 year old college sophomore girls never stretch the truth, right? Perhaps she got it from the internet and was embarrassed to have sought out such a shirt. But I assure you that she greeted me yesterday with "Something has gone seriously awry with this Court's interpretation of the Constitution." printed boldly across her chest. And for the reader who asked whether the quotation is attributed directly to Justice Thomas - it is. The question about whether or not Urban Outfitters is only "pseudo-hip" is way way out of my league. I think the fact that I used the word "hip" should say plenty.
7.1.2005 10:51am