The first part of this Article examines private property rights and the tension between individual and governmental interests. The second part explores the ideals and evolution of justice and social justice. This Section gives historical account of justice and social justice to provide a framework for those principles as they relate to eminent domain law. Part III looks at the introduction of social justice into American jurisprudence and addresses two ways in which social justice has been advanced in the United States: through social movements and through legal reform. In this Section, I give examples of how those vehicles have led to legal protections for the most vulnerable in society and assert that the same can be done for those unduly burdened by blight removal and economic development condemnations. Part IV discusses the development of case law in the area of eminent domain. This Part discusses the government dispossession of tribal lands, a seeming presage to the application of eminent domain today. It also covers the origins of eminent domain and the intersection of social justice with the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause. Part V examines the development of urban renewal and economic development policies that led to the shaping of eminent domain law by legislatures and courts, culminating in the Supreme Court's ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. This Section concludes that legislatures and courts have an obligation toward social justice in governmental takings but that they have ignored this obligation at the great expense of poor people and people of color. Part VI reviews the national debate that has erupted since Kelo in the form of social movements and legal reform. There, I suggest that while these actions represent a significant effort to reverse the negative impact of Kelo, they are not enough to bring justice to all communities, including poor communities and communities of color.
In conclusion, I posit that, while not all eminent domain is bad, circumstances exist under which the use of eminent domain is inherently unjust. These circumstances include the historical and current use of blight as a pretext for the displacement of entire communities of color and economic development condemnations that transfer private property to private interests for profit. Eminent domain within these frameworks violates basic notions of justice and constitutes a betrayal of our nation's sense of fairness. Until all citizens-regardless of race, income, or any other distinction-can protect their communities from unjust intrusions of eminent domain, the most vulnerable in our society will continue to be exploited by more powerful interests in the name of civic progress and economic development.