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Testing The Boundaries of The Fifth Amendment's Public Use Requirement

What is eminent domain? It's the right of the government to condemn your property without your consent for public use upon payment of just compensation. How's that for a mouthful?

Today's dispute centers on the definition of public interest.

New London, Connecticut, is the hotbed for this question. The City wants to condemn homes for a development to build a conference center, hotel complex, offices, condominiums, and eventually, an aquarium. The complex would be built by private developers.

The homeowners charge that it's essentially corporate welfare. The government, on the other hand, claims the condemnation falls within their power. Whatever the Supreme Court's decision is, it will have far-reaching effects.

It's the last phrase of the Fifth Amendment that we're fighting over.

How far does the government's power reach? Usually redevelopment is fairly easy, within some boundaries. Property is blighted, contaminated, run-down or some other problem exists. The citizens want the place cleaned up and returned to productive use.

What about the case here, where the homes in the Fort Trumbull area are fine? No one is complaining. The lawns are kept up, cars parked in the garage. Right there next to the Eagle, the ship I sailed on in the 1976 Tall Ships Race. It's Main Street America.

New London will make more tax revenue from the development. It will also provide more shopping and potentially a public aquarium.

Who's right? How would you want the Supreme Court to rule?



Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, February 24, 2005

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