Kelo v. New London
545 U.S. ___ (2005)

Annotate this Case

SYLLABUS
OCTOBER TERM, 2004
KELO V. NEW LONDON


SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

KELO et al. v. CITY OF NEW LONDON et al.

certiorari to the supreme court of connecticut

No. 04–108.Argued February 22, 2005—Decided June 23, 2005

After approving an integrated development plan designed to revitalize its ailing economy, respondent city, through its development agent, purchased most of the property earmarked for the project from willing sellers, but initiated condemnation proceedings when petitioners, the owners of the rest of the property, refused to sell. Petitioners brought this state-court action claiming, inter alia, that the taking of their properties would violate the “public use” restriction in the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. The trial court granted a permanent restraining order prohibiting the taking of the some of the properties, but denying relief as to others. Relying on cases such as Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U. S. 229, and Berman v. Parker, 348 U. S. 26, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, upholding all of the proposed takings.

Held: The city’s proposed disposition of petitioners’ property qualifies as a “public use” within the meaning of the Takings Clause. Pp. 6–20.

   (a) Though the city could not take petitioners’ land simply to confer a private benefit on a particular private party, see, e.g., Midkiff, 467 U. S., at 245, the takings at issue here would be executed pursuant to a carefully considered development plan, which was not adopted “to benefit a particular class of identifiable individuals,” ibid. Moreover, while the city is not planning to open the condemned land—at least not in its entirety—to use by the general public, this “Court long ago rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the … public.” Id., at 244. Rather, it has embraced the broader and more natural interpretation of public use as “public purpose.” See, e.g., Fallbrook Irrigation Dist. v. Bradley, 164 U. S. 112, 158–164. Without exception, the Court has defined that concept broadly, reflecting its longstanding policy of deference to legislative judgments as to what public needs justify the use of the takings power. Berman, 348 U. S. 26; Midkiff, 467 U. S. 229; Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Co.,467 U. S. 986. Pp. 6–13.

   (b) The city’s determination that the area at issue was sufficiently distressed to justify a program of economic rejuvenation is entitled to deference. The city has carefully formulated a development plan that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including, but not limited to, new jobs and increased tax revenue. As with other exercises in urban planning and development, the city is trying to coordinate a variety of commercial, residential, and recreational land uses, with the hope that they will form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. To effectuate this plan, the city has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the plan’s comprehensive character, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of this Court’s review in such cases, it is appropriate here, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the Fifth Amendment. P. 13.

   (c) Petitioners’ proposal that the Court adopt a new bright-line rule that economic development does not qualify as a public use is supported by neither precedent nor logic. Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted governmental function, and there is no principled way of distinguishing it from the other public purposes the Court has recognized. See, e.g.,Berman, 348 U. S., at 24. Also rejected is petitioners’ argument that for takings of this kind the Court should require a “reasonable certainty” that the expected public benefits will actually accrue. Such a rule would represent an even greater departure from the Court’s precedent. E.g.,Midkiff, 467 U. S., at 242. The disadvantages of a heightened form of review are especially pronounced in this type of case, where orderly implementation of a comprehensive plan requires all interested parties’ legal rights to be established before new construction can commence. The Court declines to second-guess the wisdom of the means the city has selected to effectuate its plan. Berman, 348 U. S., at 26. Pp. 13–20.

268 Conn. 1, 843 A. 2d 500, affirmed.

   Stevens, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion. O’Connor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia and Thomas, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

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