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Did the Supreme Court Destroy Property Rights in the Kelo Case?

In one of the most closely watched cases from the last Supreme Court term, Kelo v. New London, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 majority, ruled that the city of New London could exercise its "eminent domain" power to condemn several private residences in order to raze them as part of an effort to revitalize a downtown area adjacent to a new Pfizer plant. The purpose of this effort was to put these properties to a use supposedly more beneficial to the residents of the city, which had been suffering economic decline, by increasing opportunities for recreation, shopping, and housing—and to increase tax revenues from the urban-renewal project. Most of the property for the project was sold willingly, but several owners of single family residences, one of which had been in the same family for over a century, resisted. The Fifth Amendment—originally designed to prohibit acts by the federal government but now expanded by somewhat dubious construction to apply against state and local governments—provides that no person may be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." This amendment is the source of the eminent-domain power, which permits the taking by federal, state, or local governments, so long as "just compensation" is paid by the government; but such taking may only be for a "public...

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