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Supreme Court Allows Cities to Seize Homes for Development

The U.S. Supreme Court has given cities and other local governments the green light to seize individual homes and businesses for private development. The decision essentially extends the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property through eminent domain if the land is for “public use.”

In its 5-4 ruling on June 23, the justices ruled that local officials, and not federal judges, were the most knowledgeable to decide whether a community would be best served by a proposed development project. “It is not for the courts to oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size of a particular project area,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, which included Justices Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

The decision in Kelo et al v. City of New London clears the way for several New London, Conn., homes to be razed to make way for a riverfront hotel, health club and office complex. City officials had argued that the private development project would boost economic growth and that public purpose outweighed homeowners’ property rights, even if the area was not blighted.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random.” Beneficiaries from the ruling would likely be “large corporations and development firms,” she added.

Sheri Winston, Engineering News-Record