Fifth Amendment

Episode 4: Kelo v. City of New London

Susette Kelo loved her "little pink house" near the banks of the Thames River in New London, Connecticut. But New London, struggling with an multi-decade economic downturn, adopted a major redevelopment plan that required the demolition of Kelo's entire neighborhood. One by one, New London bought out most of Kelo's neighbors. But Kelo, and a few others, refused to sell. They didn't want to sell out and move. So they sued the city, arguing that the redevelopment plan (and the condemnation of their houses) violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The Takings Clause limits the government's eminent domain power. It says the government can only take property for a "public use," and has to pay the private owner "just compensation." Kelo argued that New London's redevelopment plan, designed to bolster the local tax base, did not qualify as a "public use."

But the Supreme Court had a century worth of case law that interpreted "public use" very broadly. And New London really had been in decline for years. With a decision that outraged much of the country along bipartisan lines, the Court ruled against Susette Kelo in 2005. Unfortunately for her, and New London, the redevelopment plan never materialized, and her old lot remains vacant to this day. 

Question: Does a city violate the Fifth Amendment's takings clause if the city takes private property and sells it for private development, with the hopes the development will help the city's bad economy?

Answer: No.


  • John Paul Stevens (majority opinion)
  • Anthony Kennedy (w/ concurring opinion)
  • David Souter
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Stephen Breyer


  • Sandra Day O'Connor (w/ opinion)
  • William Rehnquist
  • Antonin Scalia
  • Clarence Thomas (w/ opinion)