When Government Seizes Property…And Does Nothing With It

Posted on February 4, 2014 by


The Weekly Standard‘s Charlotte Allen has revisited Kelo v. New London (2005). The aftermath is nearly as ugly as the initial case.

For those uninitiated, Kelo dealt with government’s power to seize private property. The Constitution implies and accommodates this power of eminent domain in the Fifth Amendment, so long as government seizes the property for “public use” and provides just compensation to the person losing his or her property.

In Kelo, the city of New London, CT, seized property for the explicit purpose of economic development and not for “public use.” Historically, public use has referred to things like hospitals, schools, or roads/highways, or for things that serve a common carrier role that can be accessed by the public (railroads, canals). New London seized the land to turn it over to private developers with the hope that job growth, tax revenue, and tourism might benefit. The Supreme Court determined this “taking” was constitutional because of the public “benefit” that would accrue. As Allen’s article notes, the decision touched off a wave of protest across the political spectrum.

The entire article is worth a read and should cause us to reflect on the intimate relationship between liberty in general and private property in particular.