United States v. Gettysburg Elec. R. Co.
160 U.S. 668 (1896)

  • Congress authorized the creation of a park to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg.
    • Unfortunately, Gettysburg Electric already owned a railroad that went right through the parks' boundaries.
  • Congress passed a second resolution, authorizing the purchase (aka condemnation) of the land from the railroad.
  • Gettysburg Electric did not want to sell the land, and sued to keep it.
  • The Trial Court allowed the condemnation and ordered the US to pay Gettysburg Electric $30k in compensation. Gettysburg Electric appealed.
    • Gettysburg Electric argued that nothing in the constitution gave Congress the power to take the land.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that " Any act of Congress which plainly and directly tends to enhance the respect and love of the citizen for the institutions of his country, and to quicken and strengthen his motives to defend them, and which is germane to, and intimately connected with, and appropriate to, the exercise of some one or all of the powers granted by Congress, must be valid."
    • The Court was a little fuzzy on specifically why this was constitutional. They noted that the power of condemnation was not explicitly given in the Constitution, but found that it was "not necessary that the power of condemnation for such purpose be expressly given by the constitution. The right to condemn at all is not so given. It results from the powers that are given, and it is implied because of its necessity, or because it is appropriate in exercising those powers."
      • The Court might have been talking about the Necessary and Proper Clause (Article I, 8, cl. 18) but they weren't explicit. Nor did they explain exactly why the Necessary and Proper Clause should be interpreted to encompass the ability to condemn land.
  • The US Supreme Court didn't mention it in this case, but the 5th Amendment explicitly states that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. That implies that the government has a right to take private property for public use (aka eminent domain), as long as they pay compensation.