Supreme Court Looks at Economic Development as Justification for Taking Private Property
In the first of two cases that could hold major repercussions for property rights of Americans under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 22 heard oral arguments from home owners in Connecticut who have been fighting the efforts of the City of New London to take their property so that private developers can turn it into a business and technology park.
The approximately 90 acres of land that are in dispute are adjacent to a Pfizer global research facility. In justifying its redevelopment plans, the city says that the new use of the property would generate higher property tax revenue, provide new employment opportunities to make up for the closing of a local Navy facility, encourage access to the city’s waterfront and build momentum for revitalization of the downtown area.
The property owners claim that the city’s plans represent an unconstitutional transfer of land from one private property owner to another in violation of the Fifth Amendment. That view did not persuade the Connecticut Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the city last March, taking a broad approach to the issue of public use and finding that courts do not need to carefully examine this type of taking when a legislature has spoken.
NAHB has filed an amicus brief in support of the property owner in the case — Kelo v. City of New London. While not taking the position that economic development can never be a public use under the Constitution, NAHB is advocating heightened judicial review of such municipal plans and views the case as an opportunity for the Court to set out some parameters to curb abuses by local governments.