U.S. Supreme Court eases government ability to seize property

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June 24, 2005

Seal of the United States Supreme Court.

In a major decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has expanded the right of government to seize private property for public good by allowing the city of New London, Connecticut to invoke eminent domain and seize homeowners' property for economic development reasons.

In a closely-divided decision, 5-4, the court determined that the city's economic development plan constituted a "public use", and therefore qualified under the U.S. Constitution's fifth amendment's Eminent Domain clause.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority decision, and was joined by Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Anthony Kennedy. "Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government," Stevens wrote, and justified the decision further by saying municipal authorities are better positioned to make decisions regarding a community's best interests than judges.

The U.S. Supreme Court bench, 2005

Writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor rejected the economic justification as a public use, pointing out that wealthy individuals are more capable of defending themselves and so are less at risk. But the greatest issue was the liklihood of abuse of eminent domain:

"The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory." A separate dissent was also included written by Justice Clarence Thomas.

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