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Kelo v. City of New London

Citation. 545 U.S. 469 (2005)
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Brief Fact Summary.

In 2000, the city’s development agent initiated the condemnation proceedings against the petitioners to acquire their properties. There were no allegations that any of the petitioners’ property was blighted or in poor condition. The properties were condemned only because they were located in the development area.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

One person’s property may not be taken for the benefit of another private person without a justifying public purpose, even though compensation be paid.


In the early 2000, after the city of London approved a development that was projected to create more jobs, increase tax and revitalize an economically distressed city, the city’s development agent purchased property from willing sellers and proposed to use the power of eminent domain to acquire the remainder of the property from unwilling owners in exchange for just compensation. The agent successfully negotiated the purchase of the most of the real estate, but its negotiations with petitioners failed. In November 2000, the agent initiated the condemnation proceedings. There were no allegations that any of the petitioners‘ property was blighted or in poor condition. The properties were condemned only because they were located in the development area.


Does the city of New London’s proposed disposition of the property at issue qualifies as a “public use” within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment?


Yes. To determine whether property qualifies as a “public use” within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the property must serve a “public purpose.” Taken as a whole, the city’s plan has been thoroughly designed to give appreciable benefits to the community, including but not limited to new jobs and increased tax revenue, the plan serves a public purpose and satisfies the Fifth Amendment.


Justice O’Connor and Thomas

O’Connor : Whatever the reason for a given condemnation, the effect is the same – private property is forcibly relinquished to new private ownership. Moreover, this Court is not in the right position to say what constitutes the most productive or attractive possible use of a property.

Thomas: The Framers embodied the principle that “the law of the land postpones even public necessity to the sacred … rights of private property” in the Constitution, allowing the government to take property not for “public necessity,” but for “public use.” The Court relied on this Court’s precedents to derive today’s result but the principles this Court should use derive from the Public Use Clause itself. When a conflict between the text or history of the Constitution and prior cases, the Court must resolve in favor of the Constitution’s original meaning.


Justice Kennedy

This Court has stated that a disposition of property by government should be upheld as consistent with the Public Use Clause as long as it is “rationally related to a conceivable public purpose.” This deferential standard of review echoes the rational-basis test used to review economic regulation under the Due Process Clauses but whether a rational-basis standard of review is appropriate does not alter the fact that transfers intended to concur benefits on particular, favored private entities are forbidden by the Public Use Clause. The taking occurred here was meant to address a serious city-wide depression and provide meaningful economic benefits. Thus, no private purpose is present in this case.


The city of New London endeavored to coordinate a variety of commercial, residential, and recreational uses of land to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Given the comprehensive character of the plan, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of the court’s review, it is appropriate for this Court to resolve the challenges of individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but in light of the entire plan. Because the plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the Takings Clause satisfy the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment. To avoid this result, the petitioners urge the Court to adopt a new bright-line rule that economic development does not satisfy as a public use. However, promoting economic development has been a traditional, long accepted function of government and no principled way of distinguishing economic development from other public purposes exists.

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