Eminent domain, or condemnation authority, is the inherent power of the government to seize a citizen's private property, expropriate property, or seize a citizen's rights in property with due monetary compensation, but without the owner's consent. Under the Fifth Amendment, a Federal, state, or local government may confiscate privately-owned properties for public use, provided that "just compensation" is paid. This authority can be both helpful and harmful to the preservation of historic properties. On the one hand, scores of historic buildings have been demolished through the application of eminent domain proceedings under urban renewal, transportation and other public works programs. On the other hand, dilapidated historic resources have been protected from total ruin by government seizure and subsequent transfer to preservation organizations committed to rehabilitating the structures.
 Kelo v. City of New London
The use of eminent domain has become an issue of increased importance since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005). In Kelo, the Court ruled that the seizure of houses for use in a major, private development project that would bring jobs and tax revenues to an economically-distressed area satisfied the Fifth Amendment's "public use" requirement.
In response to the public outcry against the decision, a number of states have amended their state constitutions and eminent domain laws. These amendments restrict seizures of privately-owned property for economic development if the property is to be transferred to another private entity. Many of these laws narrow the definition of "public use" and tighten existing laws relating to the identification of blighted areas. Some also strengthen procedures relating to the condemnation process.
Although many of these laws may help limit the use of eminent domain authority to redevelop areas with historic buildings, local governments – even under the most restrictive statutes – still enjoy considerable authority.
- United States v. Gettysburg Electric Railway Company 160 U.S. 668 (1896)
- Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954)
- Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229 (1984)
- Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005)