467 U.S. 229 (1984), argued 26 Mar. 1984, decided 30 May 1984 by vote of 8 to o; O’Connor for the Court, Marshall not participating. Midkiff stands as the Supreme Court's most important explanation of the requirement that any governmental taking of private property must be for a “public use,” as set forth in the Fifth Amendment. The case involved a challenge to a Hawaii statute that attempted to undercut a landowning oligopoly that had long tied up land titles in the state. The contested statute gave lessees of single family homes the right to invoke the government's power of eminent domain to purchase the property that they leased, even if the landowner objected. The challengers claimed that such a condemnation was not a taking for a public use because the property, once condemned by the state, was promptly turned over to the lessee.
In Midkiff the Court virtually eliminated public use as a limit on when governments can condemn property. A public use is present, the Court held, even when the property is immediately turned over to private hands and is never used by the public. The requirement is satisfied whenever the taking is rationally related to some conceivable public purpose; it is the purpose of the taking, not the use of the property, that is important. This meant, the Court said, that the condemnation power is equal in breadth to the police power. The Court also held that courts should defer to legislative determinations of whether a purpose is a public one unless the determination is without reasonable foundation.
Eric T. Freyfogle