Kelo v. New London

PETITIONER:Susette Kelo, et al.
RESPONDENT:City of New London, Connecticut, et al.
LOCATION:City of New London Town Hall

DOCKET NO.: 04-108
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Connecticut Supreme Court

CITATION: 545 US 469 (2005)
GRANTED: Sep 28, 2004
ARGUED: Feb 22, 2005
DECIDED: Jun 23, 2005

Scott G. Bullock – argued the cause for Petitioners
Wesley W. Horton – argued the cause for Respondents

Facts of the case

New London, a city in Connecticut, used its eminent domain authority to seize private property to sell to private developers. The city said developing the land would create jobs and increase tax revenues. Susette Kelo and others whose property was seized sued New London in state court. The property owners argued the city violated the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, which guaranteed the government will not take private property for public use without just compensation. Specifically, the property owners argued taking private property to sell to private developers was not public use. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled for New London.


Does a city violate the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause if the city takes private property and sells it for private development, with the hopes the development will help the city’s bad economy?

Media for Kelo v. New London

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 22, 2005 in Kelo v. New London

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 23, 2005 in Kelo v. New London

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in Kelo versus the City of New London will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us from the Supreme Court of the State of Connecticut.

The question in the case is whether a city’s taking of private property for the purpose of economic development satisfies the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.

In 1990, a state agency designated the City of New London as a distressed municipality.

The City had experienced decades of economic decline and its unemployment rate was nearly twice that of the rest of the state.

The depressed conditions prompted state and local officials to target New London for economic revitalization.

Acting through its nonprofit development agent, the City formulated an integrated development plan that focused on 90 acres of the City’s Fort Trumbull area.

Under the plan, those 90 acres would be redeveloped for a number of commercial, residential, and recreational uses including a waterfront conference hotel, new housing units, office space for research and development firms, improved marinas and waterfront areas, a new state park and space for a museum.

The city expected that that plan would create new jobs, increased tax and other revenues and improve the area’s recreational opportunities.

After the formal adoption of the plan in 2000, the City’s development agent purchased most of the real estate in the 90 acre area from willing sellers.

However, the petitioners, some of whom have lived in their houses for their entire lives, refused to sell so the City commenced condemnation proceedings to acquire their properties in exchange for the payment of just compensation.

The petitioners brought suit in State Court to enjoin the condemnations alleging that the taking of their properties violated the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.

They argued that an economic redevelopment project does not qualify as a public use because most of the condemned property will be owned by private parties.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled for the City and we granted certiorari.

For over a century, our cases have embraced a broad interpretation of public use as public purpose and without exception, our cases have shown deference to state legislatures in determining what public needs justified the use of the takings power.

For example, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this Court approved the taking of lands needed to facilitate agriculture and mining in the western states.

One of those cases is authored by Justice Holmes.

Petitioners and their numerous amici argued that those cases are either distinguishable or should be overruled, but their arguments for a reversal rely primarily on policy considerations rather than precedent.

Rather than initiating a major change in our takings jurisprudence, we adhered to settle doctrine and affirmed the judgment of the State Supreme Court.

New London’s effort to rejuvenate its economy through an integrated development plan qualifies as a public purpose.

Economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government and we give deference to the City’s considered judgment and that its plan was needed to breathe life into its ailing economy.

It is not within our authority as a court to determine the plans likelihood of success, nor to determine whether New London would have been wiser to pursue economic development in some other way.

Our authority extends only to determining whether the City’s proposed takings are for a public use within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.

An unbroken line of our case law dictates an affirmative answer to that question.

Justice Kennedy has filed a concurring opinion; Justice O’Connor has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have joined; Justice Thomas has also filed a separate dissenting opinion.