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Interpretation and Scope of the Eminent Domain Clause

When the government takes someone’s property for public use, the law calls it a “taking.” The Fifth Amendment permits the government to appropriate private property for public use so long as the property owner receives just compensation. The Fifth Amendment allows for governmental appropriation of either real estate or personal property, and the just-compensation provision applies to both kinds of takings. In most eminent domain proceedings, just compensation is normally equated with the fair market value of the property appropriated.

The Supreme Court in 2005 sparked a national debate regarding the use of eminent domain in the decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 125 S. Ct. 2655 (2005). In Kelo, the City of New London, Connecticut condemned privately-owned properties so that the land could be used as part of a private development plan. Even though the property would be owned by private entities and used for private purposes, the development plan would increase taxes and create new jobs. These and similar reasons led the Court to decide that the city condemnation of the property constituted a “public use,” thus permitting the city to take the land.

Many members of the public criticized the decision. Several state legislators responded within a few months by introducing bills that would effectively negate the decision in Kelo. The state proposals appeared in several different forms. Some states sought to limit the type of uses of private property could be considered “public uses.” Other states considered legislation that would prohibit the use of eminent domain for certain uses, such as private economic development projects.

Inside Interpretation and Scope of the Eminent Domain Clause