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Kelo vs New London

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Kelo vs City of New London The Kelo vs City of New London case is one that was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States with the issue involving eminent domain. Eminent domain is the transfer of property from one private party (Kelo) to a public party (City of New London), with proper compensation. The case brought to light the difference between what is considered to be public use and what is the best public purpose. Susette Kelo and fellow property owners owned property that was condemned by the city of New London to be used as further economic development. The properties were taken from the owners due to the fact a pharmaceutical company named Pfizer Inc, was planning to build a facility in the area which gave the New London Development Corporation the motivation to develop the surrounding area to help increase the current New London economy. The property was to be used as a redevelopment plan which was promised to generate 3,169 new jobs and tax revenues of $1.2 million per year. The court decided in a 5-4 decision that the benefits given to the community outweighed the benefits of Susette Kelo owning the property; the courts determined this as permissible public use under the Fifth Amendment. The City of New London had agreed with Susette Kelo to compensate for moving the Kelo’s house to a new location and substantial additional compensation to other homeowners. The property eventually became an empty lot which was then transferred to a city dump due to the redeveloper was unable to obtain the financing needed for the project and abandoned the project as a whole. The March of 2004 the case was first presented in Connecticut courts in which owners sued the city arguing that the city had distorted their eminent domain power. Kelo and the other appellants brought up the argument that the City of New London was in violation due to transfer of the land to the New London Development Corporation in which they said didn’t qualify as public use. On March 9th, 2004 the Connecticut state court issued a 4-3 decision in favor of the City of New London. The homeowners then asked the United States Supreme Court to appeal resulting in the United States Supreme Court issued a certiorari in which it gave an order to the lower court (State of Connecticut) to send the United States Supreme Court all documents in the case so that the higher court could reevaluate the lower court’s decision in the case. In order to receive a certiorari at least three members of the board must believe that the case involves a sufficiently significant federal question in the interest of the public. The Kelo case was the first eminent domain case heard since the 1980’s in which states and municipalities were slowly extending their uses of eminent domain. But the Kelo case brought up a different kind of argument because the development corporation that was to benefit by the eminent domain was actually a private entity in which the plaintiffs presented the argument that this was unconstitutional. The case was officially presented on February 22, 2005, with a ruling of 5-4 in favor of the City of New London winning coming on June 23, 2005. The decision was controversial but wasn’t the first time that the United States Supreme Court interpreted public use as public purpose. A previous case Hawaii Housing Authority vs Midkiff was referenced as Justice Stevens wrote “The court long ago rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the general public”. The majority opinion is the opinion of the judges who voted for the City of New London was written by Justice John Paul Stevens stated that because all the justices had agreed that City of New London was acting in the best public use of the last that this was considered to be legal. Since the city’s economy would also be benefiting by the development plan that it was to be considered to be deemed for public use as well. The minority opinion was written by Justice O’Conner which gives us the opinion of the people who voted against the City of New London. The main argument presented by O’Conner involved the Constitution on how the citizens have protection from the government abusing their power against eminent domain. She presented an argument on how it’s like a reverse Robin Hood because the rich take from the poor and give back to the rich. If the City of New London was to be allowed to do this that other cities all over the United States would be doing the same and that this would become the norm giving homeowners no rights and no protection against this happening. Homeowners would then be given the sense that no private property is safe from eminent domain seizures. The majority opinion I feel like changed the way they looked at the Fifth Amendment to the best public purpose not the best public use of the land in order to justify their ruling. I also feel like their ruling left the door open to many more eminent domain cases because they didn’t create a fine line between what was to be considered to be legal and illegal. I feel like the minority was also correct in saying that this will be considered the norm and therefor taking away the rights given to property owners through the constitution. I also couldn’t find anywhere that it was stated that there were negotiations for the property; I did find in an article that the plaintiffs in the case were not hold outs. Either the NLDC should have purchased the property rights from the owners or the City of New London should have to achieve the most efficient results. Nowhere could I find that any of this taken place, I find it would have been more justified if after failed negotiations that the City of New London would have used eminent domain then. Although not all efficient outcomes come from negotiations the eminent domain rule could have then been used to achieve the most efficient outcome for the public. I feel like the minority brought up great points on how the eminent domain was used only for the property to then be turned over to the NLDC which is indeed a privately held company. Eminent domain needs to be used on the best public uses not the best public purposes. I also feel like the NLDC should have taken the steps to indeed test if this development was a possibility, they should have taken a look at finance options before eminent domain was even exercised. Some good did come out of this though raising public awareness and having states present laws and statues against eminent domain abuse. I believe that the courts did indeed get the decision wrong and state legislatures did indeed step in to attempt to fix the bad decision from happening in the future. One year after the decision George W. Bush had presented an executive order which restricted the use of eminent domain. This order was given to protect property owners and that if eminent domain was exercised that it was done in order to truly benefit the public, not for public purposes. The Protection of Homes, Small Businesses, and Private Property Act of 2005 was a bill that declared the federal government from exercising eminent domain power if they only justifying public use is economic development; and to impose the same limit on state and local government exercise of eminent domain power through the use of federal funds. This bill was presented to eliminate eminent domain abuse, it was written by Senator John Cornyn of Texas; his bill went to vote and was never passed to become law. In the aftermath of the Kelo case a huge backlash brought much attention to the eminent domain abuse issues. 43 states had passed constitutional amendments or statues that reformed eminent domain laws to better protect property owners.

Works Cited

(1) "KELO V. NEW LONDON." LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. 23 June 2005. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <>.
(2) KELO v. CITY OF NEW LONDON. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 19 November 2011. <>.
(3) Lizan, Anthony. "Life After Kelo v. City of New London." Property Rights Alliance. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <>

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