U.S. Supreme Court Accepts Review Of New London Eminent Domain Abuse Case

John Kramer
John Kramer · September 28, 2004

Washington, D.C.—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear the case of Kelo v. City of New London and decide whether the Constitution allows the government to use eminent domain to take one person’s home or small business so a bigger business can make more money off that land and pay more taxes as a result.

“We and the New London homeowners are thrilled that the Court has taken up this case and we are confident that it will find, as we have argued all along, that New London violated the U.S. Constitution when it tried to take these homes,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice.

Dana Berliner, an Institute for Justice senior attorney, explained, “If jobs and taxes can be a justification for taking someone’s home or business, then no property in America is safe because anyone’s home can create more jobs if it is replaced by a business and any small business can generate greater taxes if replaced by a bigger one. We have to restore the meaning of public use to what everyone once understood the term to mean–something the public would own and use, such as a road. Economic development is not a public use.”

The decision will affect homeowners throughout the country. According to a report issued last year by the Institute for Justice, in just five years, more than 10,000 properties were either taken or threatened with condemnation for private parties. There has been chaos in the state courts, with some states finding that “economic development” (tax revenue and jobs) justifies eminent domain and others finding it does not.

In the last few years, the tide has shifted against the abuse of eminent domain. With decisions from Illinois, South Carolina and Arizona, courts have finally begun to restore constitutional protections to home and business owners. The decision of the Michigan Supreme Court in July, reversing its previous Poletown decision, which had allowed the condemnation of an entire neighborhood for a GM plant shows, just how far courts have come.

Susette Kelo, one of the New London homeowners, said, “It is going to mean everything in the world if the U.S. Supreme Court saves my home. I’m so happy for myself and my elderly neighbors who just want to stay in their homes.”

“Cities and developers will say that the sky is falling and that development can’t happen without taking other people’s property by force,” concluded Chip Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice. “That’s ridiculous. Development happens all over the country, every day, with land purchased voluntarily. That’s the way our nation was built, and that’s what our Constitution requires.”