348 U.S. 26 (1954), argued 19 Oct. 1954, decided 22 Nov. 1954 by vote of 9 to 0; Douglas for the Court. A Washington, D.C., urban renewal statute allowed the city to condemn land and sell it to private developers, who would redevelop it according to the renewal plan. The plan included not only slum eradication but also beautification projects. A landowner challenged the statute, mainly on the ground that, under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the condemnation was not “for public use.” The owner argued unsuccessfully that there was no public use because the land was to be sold to a private developer and for the purpose of beautification. The Supreme Court upheld the statute.
The decision is important in two ways. First, it established that aesthetics are a legitimate public purpose for which government may regulate and condemn land. This principle has encouraged increased governmental intervention to achieve aesthetic and environmental goals. Second, Berman made clear that the phrase “public use” in the Takings Clause did not mean that land condemned had to remain in government ownership or be used physically by the public. The Court seemed to hold that eminent domain might be used to advance any goal that government could pursue under any of its powers. Subsequent decisions have confirmed this broad understanding of Berman. Thus, under the Takings Clause, “public use” means only public purpose.
William B. Stoebuck