By Sherry Conway Appel
Cities across America will be able to continue to use the power of eminent domain -one of their most effective tools for ensuring economic development - under a US Supreme Court ruling issued today. In upholding the city of New London in the Kelo v. City of New London case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that cities can continue to take private land for private development if it will fulfill a "public purpose."
"The National League of Cities (NLC) is pleased that the Supreme Court upheld 50 years of precedent today, allowing local officials the continued use of eminent domain to bolster depressed economic neighborhoods," said NLC President Anthony A. Williams, mayor of Washington, DC. "It's important to note that the Court did not expand the power, but reaffirmed its current use, which has been indispensable for revitalizing local economies, creating much-needed jobs, and generating revenue that enables cities to provide essential services. With cities and towns facing ever-shrinking resources, we need all the help we can to redevelop our neighborhoods and provide jobs for our citizens."
Williams said, "Eminent domain is not a power to be used lightly. We must be sensitive to those who may be displaced. However, as part of a legislative process, with citizen input and discussion, it is one of the most powerful tools city officials have to rejuvenate their neighborhoods." Williams said that the redevelopment of the Skyland Shopping Center in southeast Washington is an area where eminent domain could be used for the good of the entire community since it would bring in 300 jobs and $3.3 million in new tax revenue annually.
NLC officials responded to concerns raised in the opinion that the power could be improperly used by pointing out the significant checks and balances offered through the legislative process. "City officials use the power of eminent domain very selectively and very carefully," said Indianapolis, Indiana, Mayor Bart Peterson, NLC's 2nd Vice President. "Generally, property is taken only in the context of an overall economic development project that will provide significant benefits to a neighborhood. This usually involves public hearings or some other type of public process. In addition, the Constitution's Just Compensation requirement ensures that cities treat property owners fairly, as do state and federal laws that govern the use and limits of eminent domain. And the media demands that we be accountable."
NLC officials acknowledge that regardless of today's ruling, the Kelo case foreshadows greater scrutiny and accountability going forward when municipalities use eminent domain for economic development purposes.
Eminent domain has been upheld through 50 years of judicial rulings, including seven previous cases in the Supreme Court and is used to help cities assemble parcels into developable tracts.
Williams noted that eminent domain has been especially effective in cities and towns in mature and older communities that often do not have sufficient undeveloped land. "Where would Baltimore be without the Inner Harbor, Kansas City without the Kansas Speedway, Canton, Mississippi, without its new Nissan plant?," Williams said of recent economic projects that used eminent domain. "We applaud the Court for allowing us to continue to use this important tool."
National League of Cities: www.nlc.org/home