In a recent public appearance, Justice Antonin Scalia predicted that Kelo v. City of New London will eventually be overruled, perhaps soon [HT: George Mason law student Michael Mortorano]:
Scalia predicted the court’s 2005 “Kelo” decision saying local governments can take take property from one owner to give to a developer will be reversed someday.
“I do not think that the Kelo opinion is long for this world,” Scalia said. “My court has, by my lights, made many mistakes of law during its distinguished two centuries of existence. But it has made very few mistakes of political judgment, of estimating how far … it could stretch beyond the text of the constitution without provoking overwhelming public criticism and resistance. Dred Scott [legalizing slavery [note: Dred Scott did not actually “legalize” slavery, which was already legal in many states; it prevented Congress from forbidding it in federal territories, though states were still permitted to ban it – IS]] was one mistake of that sort. Roe v Wade [legalizing abortion] was another … And Kelo, I think, was a third.”
I am somewhat less certain than Scalia that Kelo will be overruled. However, I still think there’s a good chance. If anything, the controversy generated by Kelo makes it more likely that the Court will rethink its highly permissive Public Use jurisprudence than if the Supreme Court had never taken the case. Before Kelo, most experts thought that the Fifth Amendment’s Public Use Clause was virtually a dead letter because two unanimous Supreme Court decisions had declared that almost any “public purpose” endorsed by the legislature counts as a public use. Kelo, however, was a close 5-4 decision that generated widespread controversy far beyond the small group of experts who normally follow takings decisions. Even many defenders of Kelo had to admit that the meaning of “public use” was now once again open to serious debate.
Kelo also got a hostile reception from many state courts, who repudiated it as a guide to the interpretation of their state constitutional public use clauses. More broadly, both legal elites and the general public have become more sympathetic to property rights over the last twenty to thirty years. This trend, especially if it continues, makes it more likely that Scalia’s prediction will turn out to be prescient.