The Rehnquist Court (1986–2005)


What was the Court’s controversial eminent domain ruling in 2005?

The most controversial decision of the Court’s 2004–5 term was Kelo v. City of New London (2005). The city of New London, Connecticut, instituted its power of eminent domain to take property away from nine landowners to transfer the property to a private corporation as part of an economic development and revitalization plan. The landowners sued, contending that the city violated the Fifth Amendment, which provides in part: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” The landowners contended that the forced transfer of property from themselves to another private owner was not a “public use.” The Court majority determined that the city’s decision to take the property for the purpose of economic development satisfied the “public use” requirement of the Fifth Amendment.”

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor authored a strong dissent. “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded—i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public—in the process.” Justice Clarence Thomas also wrote a dissenting opinion, questioning the majority’s wisdom: “If such ‘economic development’ takings are for a ‘public use,’ any taking is, and the Court has erased the Public Use Clause from our Constitution.”


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