A Look Back at the History of Eminent Domain: Kelo v. City of New London

It’s the year 2000, and the small Connecticut city of New London has endured a couple of rough years.  After the closing of an important local naval research center in the 1990s, the town is in an economic slump and city officials are looking for a way to revamp the neighborhood where the facility once stood.

A private nonprofit from the area called the New London Development Corporation (“NLDC”) has proposed a plan to redevelop a number of sites in the area for private corporate use, and the local government is in support of its project. However there is one problem – around 90 different property owners owned land in the project area and some of them were not interested in packing up and leaving.

Residents like Susette Kelo, who didn’t want to give up her little pink waterfront home, and Wilhelmina Dery, who had lived in the same house her entire life, refused to sell their properties, even after they were subjected to a great deal of pressure and eminent domain proceedings . Eventually, Kelo brought this conflict all the way to the United States Supreme Court where it became one of the most notorious cases in eminent domain history.

While the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ultimately determined that it was legal for the city to condemn these citizens’ properties because of the general benefits the community would enjoy from NLDC’s plan for economic growth, this case has raised a question that remains controversial today—is it okay for a governmental entity to use eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another private owner to further economic development?  In other words, is that a permissible “public use” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment?

This complex and still hotly contested issue is a prime example of why citizens involved in eminent domain litigation must make sure they know what the laws are in their area.  If you, like Susette Kelo, fear that your home, business, farm, or investment is in danger of being unfairly taken by the government, make sure that you contact an eminent domain attorney so that you can learn your rights and remedies.