U.S. Supreme Court

Retired Justice Stevens Identifies and Defends His Most Unpopular Decision: Kelo

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Retired Justice John Paul Stevens says his 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London was so unpopular that he was criticized by fellow bridge players.

A duplicate bridge player, Stevens has silver life master status for the points he has amassed with the American Contract Bridge League, according to a 2009 story (PDF) in its Daily Bulletin. He tells the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) that he was merely applying 50-year-old precedent when he wrote the opinion allowing the city of New London, Conn., to use eminent domain to seize property for economic development by a private developer. “It’s the most unpopular opinion I ever wrote, no doubt about it,” he acknowledged.

“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,’ ” Stevens told the newspaper. “But you can’t explain the whole law of eminent domain to your bridge opponents.”

Justice Antonin Scalia has opined that he doesn’t think Kelo “is long for this world.” In a speech to law students in Chicago in October, he named three cases in which the court overestimated how far “it could stretch beyond the text of the Constitution without provoking overwhelming public criticism and resistance.” The decisions, he said, were Dred Scott, Roe v. Wade and Kelo.

Stevens notes that Scalia did not join a dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas calling on the court to overrule its precedent on eminent domain. Instead Scalia joined a dissent by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who said the majority had gone too far in allowing homeowner Susette Kelo’s home to be seized for private use.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Scalia Lumps Kelo Decision with Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade”

ABAJournal.com: “Connecticut Justice Apologized to Kelo Plaintiff at a Private Gathering”

ABAJournal.com: “Brooke Shields to Star in TV Movie Chronicling Kelo Eminent Domain Case”

ABA Journal: “Where’s the Revolution?”

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