Kelo v. City of New London: The Slippery Slope of “Public Use” in Eminent Domain

Kelo v. City of New London, a must-read Supreme Court case regarding property rights, has received a flurry of negative treatment since its genesis in 2005 for its expansion of eminent domain, allowing private developers and the government to collude and forcibly take private property away from citizens for “public purpose” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

In a slim 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the construction of a waterfront hotel, restaurants, retail stores, residences, and office space constituted economic development within the broad definition of “public purpose” and declined to require a reasonable certainty that the expected public benefits would even accrue. While the Court acknowledges that the sovereign may not take the property of A for the sole purpose of transferring it to another private party B, in a pivotal juxtaposition, the Court concluded that a State may, however, transfer property from one private party to another if future “use by the public” is the purpose of the taking.

It begs the question whether the Court’s interpretation of “public use” creates a slippery slope with no clear way to draw the line. As of early 2015, ten years after the Supreme Court’s controversial decision to forcibly take the homes of private citizens, not for the building of public schools or public transportation, but instead for hotels and office space, the properties that were the focus of the case remained undeveloped.