Chicago Codes
Who's Affraid of Eminent Domain? - After Kelo

On June 24, 2005, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark case of City of New London v. Kelo. The court ruled that local governments can force property owners to sell in order to make way for private economic development. Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens concluded that a "public purpose such as creating new jobs in a depressed city can also satisfy the Fifth Amendment," and that the court should not second-guess local government.

Local governments have more flexibility.
State and local governments now have affirmation of their use of eminent domain for urban revitalization.

"Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government." - Justice Stevens, writing for the majority.

Private property owners worried.
Opponents of the decision argue that forcibly transferring land from one private owner to another, even with fair compensation, violates the Fifth Amendment.

"The consequences of today's decision are not difficult to predict, and promise to be harmful." - Justice Clarence Thomas, in dissent.

"Now . . . nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory." - Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in dissent.

Background of the Case.
At issue was the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property through eminent domain, provided the owner is given ''just compensation'' and the land is for ''public use.''

Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn., filed a lawsuit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes to clear the way for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices. The residents refused to budge, arguing it was an unjustified taking of their property.

They argued the taking would be proper only if it served to revitalize slums or blighted areas dangerous to the public.

New London contends the condemnations are proper because the development plans serving a ''public purpose'' -- such as boosting economic growth -- are valid ''public use'' projects that outweigh the property rights of the homeowners.

The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with New London, ruling 4-3 in March that the mere promise of additional tax revenue justified the condemnation.