Eminent domain: Timeline of key moments
The Magna Carta sets limits on the monarchy's ability to take property without due process, while in 1544 England's Parliament grants local governments the ability to confiscate land for highways and water systems so long as they pay for it.
Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius coins the term "dominium eminens" and writes, "the property of subjects is under the eminent domain of the state, so that the state or he who acts for it may use and even destroy such property, not only in the case of extreme necessity, but for ends of public utility." This was part of his classic treatise De Jure Belli et Pacis ("On The Laws of War and Peace"), in which he outlines his theories of natural law as applied to nations.
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." This is commonly referred to as the "takings clause." In "The Federalist Papers," James Madison was an advocate of placing this limit on government power: "Government is instituted no less for protection of the property, than of the persons, of individuals."
In Kohl v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes and upholds for the first time eminent domain's existence and authority and rules that it is a power of not only federal but state government. In that case, property owners had unsuccessfully sued to prevent the seizure of property in order to build government buildings in Ohio.
In Berman v. Parker, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that private property may be taken for public purpose as well as public use and upholds the power of state and local governments to seize property to clear slums and blight. The case was brought by the owner of an unblighted property in a blighted area; the Court held that widespread blight required widespread redevelopment. The decision also expanded public use to include public purpose, an important distinction.
In Kelo v. City of New London, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that private property may be taken for private economic redevelopment, touching off a political firestorm. Seven property owners, out of 113 in a New London, Conn., neighborhood, had sued to overturn the eminent domain taking of their homes, and lost.