Public Power, Private Gain: Washington, D.C.


Washington, D.C. was the site of the original U.S. Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates of condemnation for private use.696 The Supreme Court permitted the condemnation of an area that actually was blighted (unlike most blight designations today), although the property would be transferred to another private party for development. The public use to be accomplished was the removal of slum and blight, and that was accomplished simply by razing the area. What happened afterwards, including transfer to a private party, was not important.


Although Washington, D.C., certainly saw its share of urban renewal programs many years ago, news reports reveal no exercises of condemnation for private parties in the past five years. The District seems to be focusing its energies on acquiring vacant property for transfer to private developers. Although it is possible some of these will be acquired through eminent domain,697 so far there have been no reports of actual or even threatened condemnations.


696 See Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954).

697 Neil Seldman & Jane Kaddouri, “And Rooms at the Inn,” Washington Post, Feb. 17, 2002, at B8.