Victimizing the Vulnerable

In Kelo v. City of New London—one of the most reviled U.S. Supreme Court decisions in history—the Court upheld the use of eminent domain by governments to take someone’s private property and give it to another for private economic development. In a major expansion of eminent domain power, the now-infamous Kelo decision marked the first time the U.S. Supreme Court approved the use of eminent domain for purely private development under the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which traditionally had been limited to taking property for unambiguous public uses, such as schools or courthouses.

In their dissents, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas not only pilloried the five justices in the majority for this expansion of so-called “public use,” but also predicted dire consequences as a result of the decision: Poor, minority and other historically disenfranchised and comparably powerless communities would be disproportionately hurt through eminent domain abuse. Although it is well documented that urban renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s targeted the poor and minorities, some question whether such dynamics are true in contemporary redevelopment projects, as evidenced, for example, by the neighborhood at the center of the Kelo case—a working-class area different than those typically envisioned as in need of “renewal.” This research uses census data to test the predictions of Justices O’Connor and Thomas. It compares the demographic characteristics of. . . .

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