Grounded in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the concept of eminent domain refers to the government’s right to condemn and appropriate private property for public use. Other terms meaning essentially the same thing include “condemnation” (but that has additional implications, see below) and “expropriation.” Through application of the Fourteenth Amendment, the power to exercise eminent domain is vested in both federal and state governments and subdivisions thereof (counties, cities, and towns, etc.). Such power also may be delegated to political subdivisions such as governmental agencies and local governments, as well as private persons or corporations that provide services or benefits to the public.
For years, the accepted scope of the term “public use” contemplated property being taken for such purposes as public roadways, bridges, parks, libraries, governmental buildings, utilities, etc. However, in the 2005 landmark case of Kelo v. City of New Landen, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that the government could also appropriate property to private, for-profit real estate developers, if such development would result in economic growth for the betterment of the community.