Page:United States Reports, Volume 545.djvu/561

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510
KELO v. NEW LONDON

Thomas, J., dissenting

the terms “public exigencies” employed in the Massachusetts Bill of Rights and the Northwest Ordinance, and the term “public necessity” used in the Vermont Constitution of 1786). The Constitution’s text, in short, suggests that the Takings Clause authorizes the taking of property only if the public has a right to employ it, not if the public realizes any conceivable benefit from the taking.

The Constitution’s common law background reinforces this understanding. The common law provided an express method of eliminating uses of land that adversely impacted the public welfare: nuisance law. Blackstone and Kent, for instance, both carefully distinguished the law of nuisance from the power of eminent domain. Compare 1 Blackstone 135 (noting government’s power to take private property with compensation) with 3 id., at 216 (noting action to remedy “public . . . nuisances, which affect the public, and are an annoyance to all the king’s subjects”); see also 2 Kent 274–276 (distinguishing the two). Blackstone rejected the idea that private property could be taken solely for purposes of any public benefit. “So great . . . is the regard of the law for private property,” he explained, “that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community.” 1 Blackstone 135. He continued: “If a new road . . . were to be made through the grounds of a private person, it might perhaps be extensively beneficial to the public; but the law permits no man, or set of men, to do this without the consent of the owner of the land.” Ibid. Only “by giving [the landowner] full indemnification” could the government take property, and even then “[t]he public [was] now considered as an individual, treating with an individual for an exchange.” Ibid. When the public took property, in other words, it took it as an individual buying property from another typically would: for one’s own use. The Public Use Clause, in short, embodied the Framers’ understanding that property is a natural, fundamental right, prohibiting the government from “tak[ing] property from A. and