Justice Stevens Defends Kelo

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The WSJ’s Jess Bravin reports on an interview with recently retired Justice John Paul Stevens in which he defended his “most unpopular opinion” — Kelo v. New London — from recent criticism by Justice Antonin Scalia (see here and here).

“It’s the most unpopular opinion I ever wrote, no doubt about it,” Justice Stevens said in an interview. He said he empathized with Ms. Kelo, “but the legal issue would have been exactly the same if it had been a gas station or a pool hall.” . . .

“I had people at a bridge game stop me and ask, ‘How could you have written that opinion? We thought you were a good judge, but we learned otherwise,’ ” he said. “But you can’t explain the whole law of eminent domain to your bridge opponents.”

He particularly criticized the logic of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote the 1984 opinion supporting eminent domain in Hawaii and then turned around to write a passionate dissent in favor of Ms. Kelo. . . .

Justice Stevens suggested that Justice Scalia’s view on Kelo had hardened over the years. When the decision came down, “Clarence wrote an intellectually honest opinion,” Justice Stevens said, referring to a dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas. “He said you’ve got to go back and overrule this whole line of cases, which would be a fairly dramatic thing.”

But Justice Scalia “did not join the opinion that would have overruled that. Rather, he joined Sandra’s,” Justice Stevens said.

FWIW, I’ve never been convinced that the Kelo dissenters are correct as a matter of constitutional law. While I think the use of eminent domain by the city of New London was horrendous policy, and I fully support efforts to constrain such eminent domain abuse through legislation and state constitutional amendments, I am not convinced such actions are barred by the Fifth Amendment, as I explained here and here.

Originally posted at The Volokh Conspiracy.

Jonathan Adler is Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law & Regulation at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He is a prolific scholar, publishing on such topics as regulatory takings, water marketing, fisheries management, and the judicial limits of federal environmental regulation. He is the author,...
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