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Kelo v. City of New London

    Brief Fact Summary. In 2000, the city of New London approved a development plan that, in the words of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, was “projected to create in excess of 1,000 jobs, to increase tax and other revenues, and to revitalize an economically distressed city, including its downtown and waterfront areas.”  The city purchased property and seeks to enforce eminent domain to acquire the remaining parcels from unwilling owners.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The court had previously held in the Midkiff case that such economic development qualified as a valid public use under both the Federal and State Constitutions.  The court has to meet two burdens for eminent domain- (1) that the takings of the particular properties at issue were “reasonably necessary” to achieve the City’s intended public use and (2) that the takings were for “reasonably foreseeable needs.” 

    Facts. In 2000, the city of New London approved a development plan that, in the words of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, was “projected to create in excess of 1,000 jobs, to increase tax and other revenues, and to revitalize an economically distressed city, including its downtown and waterfront areas.”  The city purchased property and seeks to enforce eminent domain to acquire the remaining parcels from unwilling owners.  The City did not plan to open the condemned land to the general public, nor were the private lessees of the land required to operate like common carriers. 

    Issue. Whether the city’s proposed disposition of this property qualifies as a “public use” within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

    Held. The city’s proposed disposition of petitioners’ property qualifies as a “public use” within the meaning of the Takings Clause. Public use in this case was broadly interpreted to mean “public purpose”.

    Dissent. O’Connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia and Thomas, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.  The three dissenting justices would have imposed a “heightened” standard of judicial review for takings justified for economic development.

    Concurrence Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion adding that 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 private party, with only incidental or pretextual public benefits…”. 

    Discussion. This jurisprudence has long recognized the needs of society vary greatly between different parts of the Nation.  Earlier cases embodied a strong theme of federalism, emphasizing the “great respect” owed to state legislatures and state courts in discerning local public needs.  Public needs used to be according to rigid formulas and intrusive scrutiny in favor of affording legislatures broad latitude in determining what public needs justified the use of the takings power.  The court must look to the entire Plan’s importance and the City’s overall interest in the economic benefits derived from the development.


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