Kelo v. City of New London

Following is the case brief for Kelo v. City of New London, United States Supreme Court, (2005)

Case summary for Kelo v. City of New London:

  • After residing there for over sixty years, Susette Kelo was notified by the city of New London that the property was going to be taken away through the city’s eminent domain powers and sold to private individuals.
  • In response, Kelo filed a claim stating that the taking was inconsistent with the public purpose requirement, and violated the Fifth Amendment.
  • The trial court found for petitioners in part, granting some but not all injunctions. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.
  • The Court held that the stated public purpose by the state legislature, creating jobs and raising tax revenue, was sufficient and fulfilled the “public purpose” requirement.

Kelo v. City of New London Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

After approving a development project, the City of New London, Connecticut used its eminent domain powers to take away private property and sell it to private developers for the purpose pf creating new jobs and increasing tax revenue. Kelo had lived on the land for more than sixty years, and was included in the area to be condemned by the project. In response, Kelo and several other land owners filed an action in state court claiming that it violated the Fifth Amendment’s “public use” requirement.

Procedural History:

The trial court granted a few injunctions. The city appealed and the state court of appeals reversed the granting of the injunctions and upheld all the takings. The landowners then petitioned to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A state may use its eminent domain power to condemn private property and distribute it to private individuals so long as it is for “public use” under the Fifth Amendment, which means the use must be rationally related to a conceivable public purpose.

Issue and Holding:

Whether a state using its eminent domain power to take private property and sell it to private developers to create jobs and increase tax revenue violates the Fifth Amendment’s “public use” requirement? No.


The Court affirmed the decision of the state appeals court.


  • City of New London did not violate the Fifth Amendment’s public use requirement and validly exercised its eminent domain authority when it took private property and distributed it to private developers for the purposes of creating jobs and raising tax revenue.

The Court referenced precedent set out in Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954), and Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff,  467 U.S. 229 (1984), where a state’s use of eminent domain was upheld  when land was taken from private individuals and sold to other private individuals. This was because the purpose of the eminent domain projects were held to promote public welfare in some form.

State legislative judgments regarding the discretion of projects in place for the public good are entitled to great deference from the judicial branch. Like the above referenced cases, Connecticut’s legislative judgment concluding that the eminent domain program is necessary to benefit the public to increase tax revenue and jobs must receive a high level of deference.

The Court held that after considering prior decisions, on previous decisions, the state Legislature’s plan serves a public purpose sufficient to satisfy the Fifth Amendments public use requirement

In addition, Kelo’s argument, claiming true public use cannot result in only economic benefits on the public, fails, as an economic benefit to the general public can still be a viable public purpose. Kelo’s second argument that the proposed public benefit must be “reasonably certain” to occur also fails because the  judicial branch is prevented from inquiring into such, due to the deference afforded to state legislative decisions.

Concurring or Dissenting opinions:

Concurring (Kennedy):

The “rationally related to a conceivable public purpose” standard can be easily over applied because it may be confused with the Equal Protection Clause’s rational basis review. While courts should defer to legislative judgments, they should still perform a sufficient factual inquiry, determining whether eminent domain projects are used to favor private groups.

Dissenting (Thomas):

Today’s holding is fundamentally at odds with the tradition of upholding private property rights which outweighed public necessity in the Framer’s minds.

The construction of the “public use” requirement of the Fifth Amendment disregards the significance of the Public Use Clause as a limit on eminent domain abuse. The “Public Use Clause, in short, embodied the Framers’ understanding that property is a natural, fundamental right, prohibiting the government from “tak[ing] property from A. and giv[ing] it to B.” Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 388 (1798).

Dissenting (O’Connor):

The three historical classes of eminent domain takings which satisfy the “public use” requirement are:

  1. taking property for public ownership, such as public roads;
  2. taking property for use by common carriers, like railroads, who put the property to public uses;
  3. taking property for private ownership in the context of some sort of a public program.

Using eminent domain to take property away from private individuals and transferring it to another private owner when the sole public purpose is economic development is improper. Transferring the land to a private owner is problematic, but allowing such takings where the sole public purpose is economic development goes too far. That permits the federal government to “transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. ”


Kelo v. City of New London made it easier for the government to seize property for a “public purpose” without violating the Fifth Amendment. Even if the land is resold to a private individual, such action is legal so long as a public purpose is behind the legislative plan.

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