The City of New London exercised its power of eminent domain to appropriate properties of a number of its citizens for purposes of selling it to private developers. Unwilling citizens including petitioner Suzette Kelo and other similarly situated individuals contested the aforementioned governmental action saying that it was done in violation of the takings clause in the Constitution.
The city, on the other hand, argues that there was compliance with the requirements in the Fifth Amendment because the integrated development plan was intended for public use, i. e. to develop the barren land which will eventually lead to the creation of employment opportunities for the citizens as well as increased revenue for the city which had been earlier labeled as a “distressed municipality. ” All the State courts have ruled in favor of the validity of the proposed takings. Issue: Does the public purpose intended by New London in the appropriation satisfy the public use requirement of the Takings Clause in the Constitution?
Rule: The rule involved is the Taking Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment which states that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. ” Application: The rule clearly states that the government may only appropriate private properties if the intended use is for the general public. However, in this case, the state is in effect appropriating the private properties with the end of transferring it to another private entity which is tasked to undertake the project that will yield public use.
Conclusion: The Court made a distinction between two kinds of expropriation. The first involves the taking of private property for direct governmental benefit which will lead to public use. On the other hand, the second type of taking has to do with seizing private property and transferring it in the name of another private entity for purposes of developing it on the condition that there is a “future public use. ” The taking involved in New City did not grant undue advantage to the private company because there remains a legitimate purpose provided to the government.
Further, it is not necessary that all the citizens will be benefited by the taking. It is sufficient that the private lessees of the developed land will cater to the general public. The Court likewise emphasized that the attainment of public use criterion is sometimes better served when delegated to private corporations rather than when undertaken by the government itself. Therefore, economic development squarely comes within the public use requirement under the Takings Clause in the Constitution. Critique:
In the case of Kelo v City of New London, the Court accorded a very liberal construction of the Takings Clause of the Constitution when it allowed the expropriation of the private property in favor of another private property. At the very outset, the controversy already becomes very apparent. As have been pointed out by Justice O’Connor, the government may freely exercise its power of eminent domain so long as it complies with the requirements of the Constitution, namely “just compensation” and “public use,” with the latter being the most contentious phrase in this case.
Would it suffice that there is incidental public benefit derivable from the expropriation? The clear reading of the black letter law answers in the negative. The power of eminent domain should only strictly be for the government’s benefit. Whatever incidental or fringe advantage should be left for other adjacent private properties, but most certainly, not the other way around. All the more that it should not be confused with the more sweeping term “general welfare. ” The implication of this decision hence renders nugatory the “Public Use” clause in its entirety.
Furthermore, this case establishes a dangerous precedent. One should note the composition of the local governments as well as those in the congress. They are all affluent individuals who are more often than not propertied private individuals, too. They can easily invoke this case to justify the undue advantage they have for themselves. Justice O’Connor had this possibility in mind when she stated that now “those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms” can exploit the weak who had nothing but the lands passed down to them.
Ordinarily, judicial activism is resorted to for purposes of maintaining equity and social justice especially when the law is too oppressive for the majority (Morgan, 2001). However, this case is an outlier as it sanctioned the suppression. Thayer has enumerated at least three evils that attend the increased exercise of judicial review. First, the Congress grows more and more accustomed to turning the subject of constitutional restraints over to the courts, falling insensibly into a habit of “assuming that whatever they may constitutionally do, they may do.
” Second, the people become more careless in electing their representatives since the few and, presumably, wiser occupants of the Bench are there to protect them anyway should the incompetence of these legislators shine eventually. Finally, judicial review is inherently not preferable because the correction of laws come “from the outside” and so those people primarily tasked to make the laws lose the opportunity to improve their own political competence (Wolfe, 1997).
References Morgan, D. G. (2001). A judgment too far? : judicial activism and the constitution. Ireland: Cork University Press. Powers, S. (2002). The Least Dangerous Branch? Consequences of Judicial Activism. Connecticut: Praeger. Schmidt, S. W. , Shelley, M. C. , & Bardes, B. A. (2008). American Government & Politics Today. Boston: Cengage Learning Inc. Wolfe, C. (1997). Judicial activism: bulwark of freedom or precarious security? New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
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