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Kelo v. New London

Citation. 545 U.S. 469, 125 S.Ct. 2655, 162 L.Ed.2d 439 (2005).
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Brief Fact Summary.

The city of New London seized private property to sell to private developers, with the purpose of developing the land to create jobs and increase tax revenues. Kelo, along with other property owners whose property was seized, brought suit against the city.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

“Public use,” as it appears in the Takings Clause, is construed broadly to mean “public purpose.”


New London, a city in Connecticut, used its eminent domain authority to seize private property to sell to private developers. The city said developing the land would create jobs and increase tax revenues. Kelo and others whose property was seized sued New London in state court. The property owners argued the city violated the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, which guaranteed that the government will not take private property for public use without just compensation. Specifically, Kelo and the other property owners argued taking private property to sell to private developers was not a public use.


Does a city violate the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause if the city takes private property and sells it for private development, with the hopes the development will help the city’s bad economy?


No, a city does not necessarily violate the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause even if it takes private property and sells it for private development.


Justice O’Connor

Economic development takings are not constitutional. Per the majority’s decision, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.

Justice Thomas

There is no justification for affording almost insurmountable deference to legislative conclusions that a use serves a “public use.” There are many other scenarios in which the Court would not defer to a legislature’s determination (e.g., whether the search of a home is reasonable or when a convicted double-murderer may be shackled during a sentencing proceeding without on-the-record findings, etc.). The government may take property only if it actually uses or gives the public a legal right to use the property.


Justice Kennedy

Even with a deferential standard of review, a taking should not survive the public use test if there is a clear showing that its purpose is to favor a particular party, with only incidental or pretextual public benefits.


The Court held that the city’s taking of private property to sell for private development qualified as a “public use” within the meaning of the Takings Clause. The city was not taking the land simply to benefit a certain group of private individuals, but was following an economic development plan. Such justifications for land takings should be given deference. The takings here qualified as “public use,” despite the fact that the land was not going to be used by the public. The Fifth Amendment did not require literal “public use,” but the “broader and more natural interpretation of public use as ‘public purpose.’”

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