The city of New London had approved an integrated development plan that was aimed at commercializing a given area. This was after Pfizer, a drug company, built a new plant in the city of New London, Connecticut. The development plan was to have a resort hotel, a conference center as well as a new state park among other features. This plan was meant to create more job opportunities and increase the city’s tax base. Through its development agent, New London city tried to Purchase about 115 houses around the area where Pfizer built its plant (Schultz 149). However, some residents refused to sell their land to the city claiming that the act was against the 5th Amendment to the constitution. The city did not relent in its efforts and it claimed the land based on eminent domain. Consequently, the plaintiffs sued the city of New London.
The city was taking private land and transferring it to private developers for the sole reason of economic development. However, Kelo and his co-plaintiffs argued that economic development did not satisfy the definition of public use as it is given under the 5th Amendment to the constitution. This case was first filed in the Connecticut courts where the plaintiffs argued that the power of eminent domain was limited by the 5th Amendment to the constitution. The Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled in favor of the city of New London. However, the plaintiffs were not satisfied with this decision and they filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of the United States (Pollock 360).
After hearing the arguments of both sides on March 9, 2004, the Supreme Court of United States issued its ruling in favor of the city by majority. The matter before the court was to determine whether economic development and public purpose constitute public use. The court held that economic development qualifies to be included in public use if its benefits can be enjoyed by every resident.
According to the court, any project that would benefit the community as whole serves a public purpose and therefore satisfies the definition of public use. According to majority of the Justices, any resident of the city was bound to enjoy the benefits of the development project. Majority of the Justices argued that as long as the end result will benefit the whole community, it is not necessary that a property taken under eminent domain should be used directly by the public (Scott 58). The court held that the 5th Amendment to the constitution did not demand public use in its literal meaning. Therefore, Public use was subject to varied interpretations.
However, other judges did not agree with the ruling. Justice Antonin argued that taking of the land was not in the public interest per se because the city received incidental benefits from the project. According to the Justices who disagreed, a project in which the public received incidental benefits would not satisfy the definition of public use (Cross and Roger 584). Justice Thomas also argued that it was against the 5th Amendment to initiate any plan that would lead to involuntary transfer of land from one private owner to another.
The case got mixed reactions from people who believed that the ruling will make the government to misuse the eminent domain clause. The ruling appeared to the public as being unfavorable to individual property owners. Nevertheless, the case is very crucial because this was the first time that economic development was being included in the definition of public use. Moreover, the case is an example of situations where eminent domain can be used to take property in absence of blight.
Cross, Frank B. and Roger LeRoy Miller. The Legal Environment of Business: Text and Cases, Ethical, regulatory, Global, and Corporate issues. Stanford: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Pollock, Earl E. The Supreme Court and American Democracy: Case Studies on Judicial Review and Public Policy. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2009. Print.
Schultz, David. Evicted!: Property Rights and Eminent Domain in America. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2009. Print.
Scott, Kyle. The Price of Politics: Lessons from Kelo v. City of New London. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2010. Print.