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1. Kelo v. City of New London (2005)
Are there any limits on government's authority to take property from citizens? The U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment seems to put pretty clear limits on the taking of "private property for public use" (with public use defined as projects such as railways and roads) and requires that owners deprived of their property must receive just compensation. That standard held up into the twentieth century, when a stream of court decisions began defining "public" downward and "blight" (one criterion for condemning private property) downward.
The 2005 Kelo decision completed that dreary progress. Justice John Paul Stevens ruled for the majority that a redevelopment agency in New London, Connecticut could seize homes of local families and give them to a private developer working with the Pfizer Corporation for a mixed-use plan dating to the 1990s. In a stinging dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that the Kelo decision overturned a judicial principal dating to 1798: A "law that takes property from A and gives it to B" cannot stand.
Stevens' decision still seems shockingly credulous and ill-considered seven years on. Kelo rejects any requirement that condemned property be put into public use, gives unlimited "deference" to politicians' economic judgments, and assumes the plan's "comprehensive character" and the "wisdom of the means the city has selected" would ensure against damaging private citizens for no public purpose.
In the end, though, Pfizer abandoned the project and the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, cleared of its houses, literally became a garbage dump. New London was made poorer, and although some states responded to the ruling with piecemeal efforts to rein in eminent domain abuse, Kelo's most important precedent has been to enshrine the unrepentant Stevens' legacy as an economic dullard and second-rate legal thinker.