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Sample Brief previously submitted by a student in BUAD 3470.

I. KELO et al. v. CITY OF NEW LONDON et al.

II. CITATION: 545 U.S. 469 (2005)


The city of New London, Connecticut, after the closing of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, reactivated the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), a non-profit entity for land development in the city, specifically the Fort Trumbull area vacated by the U.S. Navy.

Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Inc. expressed an interest in locating a research and production facility in the area. The city advised the NLDC to move forward with its plans. Over 90 acres of property were purchased and acquired through eminent domain for the development of residential housing, recreational, marina, retail and industrial parcels. Of the 90 acres, thirty-two of the acres came from Fort Trumbull and the remainder from private owners. All private owners, except 15, sold to the city for the project. The remaining 15 held out not for money, but for emotional and sentimental reasons. The Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled in favor of the taking of the private property under eminent domain. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and grouped all 15 cases in one appeal.


Is the use of eminent domain to acquire property by the government and redirect for private use repugnant to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which reads “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”? Is the taking of property from A and giving it to B for economic development a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment?


In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Connecticut Supreme. Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer were in majority with Justices O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting.


The majority opinion and decision of the court was delivered by Justice Stevens. The majority opinion was primarily based on two previous court rulings, Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229 (1984) and Berman v. Parker, 346 U.S. 26 (1954). In both cases the local government took property through emminent domain and redistributed it to private entitites for development and urban renewal.

The majority opinion held that the New London land in question is part of a “carefully considered” development plan. The opinion conceded that, “The sovereign may not take the property of A for the sole purpose of transferring it to another private party B, even though A is paid just compensation.” However, because the taking is part of a development plan and not just an arbitrary re-distribution of property, this makes it acceptable. The lower courts had found that there was no evidence of illegitimate purpose in this case, that the taking of the property was not for the sole benefit of one person. And while the land is not freely accessible to all, the New London project sufficiently satisfies the “public use” requirement of the emminent domain clause of the Fifth Amendment. The duty of the court is to determine if the “public use” requirement is being met. The majority quoted Justice Douglas in the Berman v. Parker case, stating, “We do not sit to determine whether a particular housing project is or is not desirable. The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive.”

The duty of the court is not to look at each individual building, but at the project as a whole and determine if it meets the “public use” guideline. Individual property is the concern of the local legislature which is in a better position to review each property and its relation to the project as a whole.

VII. CONCURRING OPINION (delivered by Justice Kennedy)

Justice Kennedy called for a rational-basis review eminent domain cases to determine if one particular party will benefit greatly over others. Such a review was outlined in both the Hawaii Housing Authority and Berman cases. However, in the New London case, the majority of the parties were unknown and no one party could unfairly benefit from the transaction. Pfizer was not benefitting from the development as the project was already conceived and being executed when Pfizer expressed an interest in locating there. The land transfers were part of a comprehensive plan that was already in the works, and no one group was favored in the transaction.

VIII. DISSENTING OPINION (delivered by Justice O’Connor, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia)

Justice O’Connor gave a very strong dissent. Referring to the words of Justice Chase in 1798 who wrote:

“An act of the Legislature (for I cannot call it law) contrary to the great first principles of the social compact, cannot be considered a rightful exercise of legilative authority…A law that takes property from A and gives it to B: It is against all reason and justice for the people to entrust a Legislature with such power; and, therefore it cannot be presumes that they have done it.” Calder v. Bull 3 Dall.386,388 (1798)

Justice O’Connor wrote, “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner so long as it might be upgraded.”

Justice O’Connor proposes a limited Constitutionalist view of eminent domain holding that property taken under the Fifth Amendment must be strictly for public use and in no way should benefit any single or limited group of people. The taking of property must be for the good of all people equally.

Justice O’Connor laid out three primary areas where emminent domain has come into play. First, to acquire land for roads, a hospital, or a military base. The second to acquire land such as a railroad, public utility, and public stadium. The third is for certain private enterprises such as in the Hawaii Housing Authority and Berman cases. In these two cases there were extenuating circumstances. In Berman, the area was so blighted as to be a health hazard. In Hawaii Housing Authority, the majority of the land was in the hands of so few people, it was “skewing” the state’s residential fee simple market. In both cases the public good was being served without unduly benefiting a select group of individuals.

O’Connor said it is the role of the court to determine whether transfers are solely for the benefit of a private transferee. Also, eminent domain is to upgrade and not downgrade property. She agreed that the real power of eminent domain should rest with local and state legislature, but it should be done with a watchful eye by the courts because “the beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process.” Justice O’Connor concluded that the taking of the New London property was unconstitutional and that the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.


Justice Thomas said that the “public use” clause of the Fifth Amendment has been erased from our Constitution. The “public use” clause along with the “just compensation” clause in the Fifth Amendment are an express limit on the government’s power of eminent domain.

He pointed out that “public use” is very different from “general welfare” used elsewhere in the Constitution. These takings fall more in line with “general welfare” than “public use”. Justice Thomas looks on the “takings” clause as not a grant of power but a prohibition, and that takings should only be done when absolutely necessary.

Justice Thomas referred back to the early grist mill laws as the origin for the “takings” clause. Such laws gave compensation to landowners whose land was flooded by water powered grist mills. The taking later moved to public roads, ferries, canals, railways, and parks, all within the scope of “public use.” The current interpretation of “public use” has deviated from its natural reading to two lines of cases. The first are those that adopt the “public purpose” interpretation, and the second are those that defer to the legislature judgment regarding valid public purpose.

Justice Thomas criticized the “actual use tests” that were laid out in both the Hawaii Housing Authority and Berman cases. Once applied there is no limit on what constitutes “public use.” He argued that the results of the present decision are easy to predict. The neighborhoods of the less affluent and less influential of society will be the target of hastily drawn revitalization programs and the takings will be the rewards of the few rather than the public good. He urged the Supreme Court to return to the original intent envisioned by the framers of the Constitution, that is to restrain and prohibit the arbitrary taking of property.


I agree with the dissenters in this case. The Constitution is clear that the government should not take land unnecessarily, and moreover for the benefit of private individuals. This harkens back as far as the original Magna Charta. The sovereign shall not disposess people from their land or property. The path that this leads down is one where the most influential in our society can take whatever thety like with the blessings of the court under the guise of “public use.” It is easy to see from the cases cited and the dates, that the more recent the case, the more liberal the intrepretation of “public use.”


U.S. Supreme Court

GIBBONS v. OGDEN, 22 U.S. 1 (1824)

22 U.S. 1 (Wheat.)

GIBBONS, Appellant,
OGDEN, Respondent.

March 2, 1824

The acts of the Legislature of the State of New-York, granting to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton the exclusive navigation of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam, for a term of years, are repugnant to that clause of the constitution of the United States, which authorizes Congress to regulate commerce, so far as the said acts prohibit vessels licensed, according to the laws of the United States, for carrying on the coasting trade, from navigating the said waters by means of fire or steam.

APPEAL from the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors of the State of New-York. Aaron Ogden filed his bill in the Court of Chancery of that State, against Thomas Gibbons, setting forth the several acts of the Legislature thereof, enacted for the purpose of securing to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton, the [ Gibbons v. Ogden 22 U.S. 1 (1824)

exclusive navigation of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam, for a term of years which has not yet expired; and authorizing the Chancellor to award an injunction, restraining any person whatever from navigating those waters with boats of that description. The bill stated an assignment from Livingston and Fulton to one John R. Livingston, and from him to the complainant, Ogden, of the right to navigate the waters between Elizabethtown, and other places in New-Jersey, and the city of New-York; and that Gibbons, the defendant below, was in possession of two steam boats, called the Stoudinger and the Bellona, which were actually employed in running between New-York and Elizabethtown, in violation of the exclusive privilege conferred on the complainant, and praying an injunction to restrain the said Gibbons from using the said boats, or any other propelled by fire or steam, in navigating the waters within the territory of New-York. The injunction having been awarded, the answer of Gibbons was filed; in which he stated, that the boats employed by him were duly enrolled and licensed, to be employed in carrying on the coasting trade, under the act of Congress, passed the 18th of February, 1793, c. 3. entitled, ‘An act for enrolling and licensing ships and vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same.’ And the defendant insisted on his right, in virtue of such licenses, to navigate the waters between Elizabethtown and the city of New-York, the said acts of the Legislature of the [22 U.S. 1, 3]   State of New-York to the contrary notwithstanding. At the hearing, the Chancellor perpetuated the injunction, being of the opinion, that the said acts were not repugnant to the constitution and laws of the United States, and were valid. This decree was affirmed in the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors, which is the highest Court of law and equity in the State, before which the cause could be carried, and it was thereupon brought to this Court by appeal.

Principles of interpretation. The power of regulating commerce extends to the regulation of navigation. The power to regulate commerce extends to every species of commercial intercourse between the United States and foreiga nations, and among the several States. It dees not stop at the external boundary of a State. But it does not extend to a commerce which is completely internal. The power to regulate commerce is general, and has no limitations but such as are prescribed in the constitution itself. The power to regulate commerce, so far as it extends, is exclusively vested in Congress, and no part of it can be exercised by a State. State inspection laws, health laws, and laws for regulating the internal commerce of a State, and those which respect turnpike roads, ferries, &c. are not within the power granted to Congress. The laws of N. Y. granting to R.R.L. and R. F. the exclusive right of navigating the waters of that State with steam boarts, are in collision with the acts of Congress regulating the coasting trade, which being made in pursuance of the constitution, are supreme, and the State laws must yield to that supremacy, even though enacted in pursuance of powers acknowledged to remain in the States. A license under the acts of Congress for regulating the coasting trade, gives a permission to carry on that trade. The license is not merely intended to confer the national character. The power of regulating commerce extends to navigation carried on by vessels exclusively employed in transporting passengers. The power of regulating commerce extends to vessels propelled by steam or fire, as well as to those navigated by the instrument ality of wind and sails.

Feb. 4th, 5th, and 6th. Mr. Webster, for the appellant, admitted, that there was a very respectable weight of authority in favour of the decision, which was sought to be reversed. The laws in question, he knew, had been deliberately re-enacted by the Legislature of New-York; and they had also received the sanction, at different times, of all her judicial tribunals, than which there were few, if any, in the country, more justly entitled to respect and deference. The disposition of the Court would be, undoubtedly, to support, if it could, laws so passed and so sanctioned. He admitted, therefore, that it was justly expected of him that he should make out a clear case; and unless he did so, he did not hope for a reversal. It should be remembered, however, that the whole of this branch of power, as exercised by this Court, was a power of revision. The question must be decided by the State Courts, and decided in a particular manner, before it could be brought here at all. Such decisions alone gave the Court jurisdiction; and therefore, while they are to be respected [22 U.S. 1, 4]   as the judgments of learned Judges, they are yet in the condition of all decisions from which the law allows an appeal.

It would not be a waste of time to advert to the existing state of the facts connected with the subject of this litigation. The use of steam boats, on the coasts, and in the bays and rivers of the country, had become very general. The intercourse of its different parts essentially depended upon this mode of conveyance and transportation. Rivers and bays, in many cases, form the divisions between States; and thence it was obvious, that if the States should make regulations for the navigation of these waters, and such regulations should be repugnant and hostile, embarrassment would necessarily happen to the general intercourse of the community. Such events had actually occurred, and had created the existing state of things.

By the law of New-York, no one can navigate the bay of New-York, the North River, the Sound, the lakes, or any of the waters of that State, by steam vessels, without a license from the grantees of New-York, under penalty of forfeiture of the vessel.

By the law of the neighbouring State of Connecticut, no one can enter her waters with a steam vessel having such license.

By the law of New-Jersey, if any citizen of that State shall be restrained, under the New-York law, from using steam boats between the ancient shores of New-Jersey and New-York, he shall be entitled to an action for damages, in [22 U.S. 1, 5]   New-Jersey, with treble costs against the party who thus restrains or impedes him under the law of New-York! This act of New-Jersey is called an act of retortion against the illegal and oppressive legislation of New- York; and seems to be defended on those grounds of public law which justify reprisals between independent States.

It would hardly be contended, that all these acts were consistent with the laws and constitution of the United States. If there were no power in the general government, to control this extreme belligerent legislation of the States, the powers of the government were essentially deficient, in a most important and interesting particular. The present controversy respected the earliest of these State laws, those of New-York. On those, this Court was now to pronounce; and if they should be declared to be valid and operative, he hoped somebody would point out where the State right stopped, and on what grounds the acts of other States were to be held inoperative and void.

It would be necessary to advert more particularly to the laws of New- York, as they were stated in the record. The first was passed March 19th, 1787. By this act, a sale and exclusive right was granted to John Fitch, of making and using every kind of boat or vessel impelled by steam, in all creeks, rivers, bays, and waters, within the territory and jurisdiction of New-York, for fourteen years.

On the 27th of March, 1798, an act was passed, on the suggestion that Fitch was dead, or had withdrawn from the State, without having made [22 U.S. 1, 6]   any attempt to use his privilege, repealing the grant to him, and conferring similar privileges on Robert R. Liringston, for the term of twenty years, on a suggestion, made by him, that he was possessor of a mode of applying the steam engine to propel a boat, on new and advantageous principles. On the 5th of April, 1803, another act was passed, by which it was declared, that the rights and privileges granted to R. R. Livingston, by the last act, should be extended to him and Robert Fulton, for twenty years, from the passing of this act. Then there is the act of April 11, 1808 purporting to extend the monopoly, in point of time, five years for every additional boat, the whole duration, however, not to exceed thirty years; and forbidding any and all persons to navigate the waters of the State, with any steam boat or 11, 1808, purporting of Livingston and Fulton, under penalty of forfeiture of the boat or vessel. And, lastly, comes the act of April 9, 1811, for enforcing the provisions of the last mentioned act, and declaring, that the forfeiture of the boat or vessel, found navigating against the provisions of the previous acts, shall be deemed to accrue on the day on which such boat or vessel should navigate the waters of the State; and that Livingston and Fulton might immediately have an action for such boat or vessel, in like manner as if they themselves had been dispossessed thereof by force; and that on bringing any such suit, the defendant therein should be prohibited, by injunction, from removing the boat or vessel out of the State, or using it within the State. There were [22 U.S. 1, 7]   one or two other acts mentioned in the pleadings, which principally respected the time allowed for complying with the condition of the grant, and were not material to the discussion of the case.

By these acts, then, an exclusive right is given to Livingston and Fulton, to use steam navigation on all the waters of New-York, for thirty years from 1808.

It is not necessary to recite the several conveyances and agreements, stated in the record, by which Ogden, the plaintiff below, derives title under Livingston and Fulton, to the exclusive use of part of these waters.

The appellant being owner of a steam-boat, and being found navigating the waters between New-Jersey and the city of New-York, over which waters Ogden, the plaintiff below, claimed an exclusive right, under Livingston and Fulton, this bill was filed against him by Ogden, in October, 1818, and an injunction granted, restraining him from such use of his boat. This injunction was made perpetual, on the final hearing of the cause, in the Court of Chancery; and the decree of the Chancellor has been duly affirmed in the Court of Errors. The right, therefore, which the plaintiff below asserts to have and maintain his injunction, depends obviously on the general validity of the New-York laws, and, especially, on their force and operation as against the right set up by the defendant. This right he states, in his answer, to be, that he is a citizen of New-Jersey, and owner of the steam-boat in question; that the boat was a vessel of more than twenty [22 U.S. 1, 8]   tons burden, duly enrolled and licensed for carrying on the coasting trade, and intended to be employed by him, in that trade, between Elizabethtown, in New-Jersey, and the city of New-York; and was actually employed in navigating between those places, at the time of, and until notice of the injunction from the Court of Chancery was served on him.

On these pleadings the substantial question is raised: Are these laws such as the Legislature of New-York had a right to pass? If so, do they, secondly, in their operation, interfere with any right enjoyed under the constitution and laws of the United States, and are they, therefore, void, as far as such interference extends?

It may be well to state again their general purport and effect, and the purport and effect of the other State laws, which have been enacted by way of retaliation.

A steam vessel, of any description, going to New-York, is forefeited to the representatives of Livingston and Fulton, unless she have their license.

Going from New-York, or elsewhere, to Connecticut, she is prohibited from entering the waters of the State, if she have such license.

If the representatives of Livingston and Fulton, in New-York, carry into effect, by judicial process, the provision of the New-York laws, against any citizen of New-Jersey, they expose themselves to a statute action, in New-Jersey, for all damages, and treble costs.

The New-York laws extend to all steam vessels; [22 U.S. 1, 9]   to steam frigates, steam ferry-boats, and all intermediate classes.

They extend to public as well as private ships; and to vessels employed in foreign commerce, as well as to those employed in the coasting trade.

The remedy is as summary as the grant itself is ample; for immediate confiscation, without seizure, trial, or judgment, is the penalty of infringement.

In regard to these acts, he should contend, in the first place, that they exceeded the power of the Legislature; and, secondly, that if they could be considered valid, for any purpose, they were void, still, as against any right enjoyed under the laws of the United States, with which they came in collision; and that, in this case, they were found interfering with such rights.

He should contend, that the power of Congress to regulate commerce, was complete and entire, and, to a certain extent, necessarily exclusive; that the acts in question were regulations of commerce, in a most important particular; and affecting it in those respects, in which it was under the exclusive authority of Congress. He stated this first proposition guardedly. He did not mean to say that all regulations which might, in their operation, affect commerce, were exclusively in the power of Congress; but that suck power as had been exercised in this case, did not remain with the States. Nothing was more complex than commerce; and in such an age as this, no words embraced a wider field than commercial regulation. Almost all the business and intercourse of [22 U.S. 1, 10]   life may be connected, incidentally, more or less, with commercial regulations. But it was only necessary to apply to this part of the constitution the well settled rules of construction. Some powers are holden to be exclusive in Congress, from the use of exclusive words in the grant; others, from the prohibitions on the States to exercise similar powers; and others, again, from the nature of the powers themselves. It has been by this mode of reasoning that the Court has adjudicated on many important questions; and the same mode is proper here. And, as some powers have been holden exclusive, and others not so, under the same form of expression, from the nature of the different powers respectively; so, where the power, on any one subject, is given in general words, like the power to regulate commerce, the true method of construction would be, to consider of what parts the grant is composed, and which of those, from the nature of the thing, ought to be considered exclusive. The right set up in this case, under the laws of New-York, is a monopoly. Now, he thought it very reasonable to say, that the constitution never intended to leave with the States the power of granting monopolies, either of trade or of navigation; and, therefore, that as to this, the commercial power was exclusive in Congress.

It was in vain to look for a precise and exact definition of the powers of Congress, on several subjects. The constitution did not undertake the task of making such exact definitions. In confering powers, it proceeded in the way of enumeration, [22 U.S. 1, 11]   stating the powers conferred, one after another, in few words; and, where the power was general, or complex in its nature, the extent of the grant must necessarily be judged of, and limited, by its object, and by the nature of the power.

Few things were better known, than the immediate causes which led to the adoption of the present constitution; and he thought nothing clearer, than that the prevailing motive was to regulate commerce; to rescue it from the embarrassing and destructive consequences, resulting from the legislation of so many different States, and to place it under the protection of a uniform law. The great objects were commerce and revenue; and they were objects indissolubly connected. By the confederation, divers restrictions had been imposed on the States; but these had not been found sufficient. No State, it was true, could send or receive an embassy; nor make any treaty; nor enter into any compact with another State, or with a foreign power; nor lay duties, interfering with treaties which had been entered into by Congress. But all these were found to be far short of what the actual condition of the country regulate The States could still, each for itself, regulate commerce, and the consequence was, a perpetual jarring and hostility of commercial regulation.

In the history of the times, it was accordingly found, that the great topic, urged on all occasions, as showing the necessity of a new and different government, was the state of trade and commerce. To. benefit and improve these, was a great object in itself: and it became greater when it was regarded [22 U.S. 1, 12]   as the only means of enabling the country to pay the public debt, and to do justice to those who had most effectually laboured for its independence. The leading state papers of the time are full of this topic. The New- Jersey resolutions1 complain, that the regulation of trade was in the power of the several States, within their separate jurisdiction, in such a degree as to involve many difficulties and embarrassments; and they express an earnest opinion, that the sole and exclusive power of regulating trade with foreign States, ought to be in Congress. Mr. Witherspoon’s motion in Congress, in 1781, is of the same general character; and the report of a committee of that body, in 1785, is still more emphatic. It declares that Congress ought to possess the sole and exclusive power of regulating trade, as well with foreign nations, as between the States. 2 The resolutions of Virginia, in January, 1786, which were the immediate cause of the convention, put forth this same great object. Indeed, it is the only object stated in those resolutions. There is not another idea in the whole document. The entire purpose for which the delegates assembled at Annapolis, was to devise means for the uniform regulation of trade. They found no means, but in a general government; and they recommended a convention to accomplish that purpose. Over whatever other interests of the country this government may diffuse its benefits, and its blessings, it [22 U.S. 1, 13]   will always be true, as matter of historical fact, that it had its immediate origin in the necessities of commerce; and, for its immediate object, the relief of those necessities, by removing their causes, and by establishing a uniform and steady system. It would be easy to show, by reference to the discussions in the several State conventions, the prevalence of the same general topics; and if any one would look to the proceedings of several of the States, especially to those of Massachusetts and New-York, he would see, very plainly, by the recorded lists of votes, that wherever this commercial necessity was most strongly felt, there the proposed new constitution had most friends. In the New-York convention, the argument arising from this consideration was strongly pressed, by the distinguished person whose name is connected with the present question.

We do not find, in the history of the formation and adoption of the constitution, that any man speaks of a general concurrent power, in the regulation of foreign and domestic trade, as still residing in the States. The very object intended, more than any other, was to take away such power. If it had not so provided, the constitution would not have been worth accepting.

He contended, therefore, that the people intended, in establishing the constitution, to transfer, from the several States to a general government, those high and important powers over commerce, which, in their exercise, were to maintain an uniform and general system. From the very nature of the case, these powers must be exclusive; [22 U.S. 1, 14]   that is, the higher branches of commercial regulation must be exclusively committed to a single hand. What is it that is to be regulated? Not the commerce of the several States, respectively, but the commerce of the United States. Henceforth, the commerce of the States was to be an unit; and the system by which it was to exist and be governed, must necessarily be complete, entire, and uniform. Its character was to be described in the flag which waved over it, EPLURIBUS UNUM. Now, how could individual States assert a right of concurrent legislation, in a case of this sort, without manifest encroachment and confusion? It should be repeated, that the words used in the constitution, ‘to regulate commerce,’ are so very general and extensive, that th