April 15, 2005
FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT AND EMINENT DOMAIN
By: Jennifer Nelson, Legislative Fellow
You asked for an explanation of the “due process” and “equal protection” clauses of the 14th amendment to the United States constitution and how this amendment affects eminent domain.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution limits the powers of states declaring that “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Due process expresses a requirement of fundamental fairness.
There are two aspects of due process — substantive and procedural. Under substantive due process, a law must be rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. A law that regulates a fundamental right, such as the right to privacy, must also further a compelling state interest and must be narrowly tailored to achieve the state purpose.
Under procedural due process, people are entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard before the government can deprive them of property or liberty. The notice must be reasonably calculated, to give interested parties adequate time and an opportunity to appear and be heard before an impartial tribunal.
The 14th Amendment provides that “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Equal protection under the law means that legislation must treat all people or classes of people the same under like circumstances and conditions. It does not mean that the outcomes from the application of the law must be identical. The Equal Protection clause does not bar a state from distinguishing between citizens, but it does require that the distinctions not be arbitrary.
The courts review equal protection claims with different standards of review depending on the type law and the class of people affected. The standards of review are called rational, intermediate, and strict scrutiny. Laws that regulate economic interests are subject to the rational test, which require that laws be rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Laws that appear to regulate activity based on gender are subject to the intermediate test. Under this test, laws must satisfy an important state interest and the gender classification must be substantially related to that interest. Laws that regulate the activity of citizens by race or national origin, or that affect a fundamental right such as the right to vote, must pass a strict scrutiny test. Under this test, those laws must serve a compelling state interest and the classification must be necessary to achieve the goal. The law must be narrowly tailored to achieve its objective.
Eminent domain, often called "condemnation," is the legal process by which a public body (and certain private bodies, such as utility companies, railroads, redevelopment corporations and some others) has the legal power to acquire private property for a public use or purpose. The 14th Amendment requires that when eminent domain is used certain procedural due process safeguards such as notice and an opportunity to be heard be provided. The Connecticut state constitution requires that “the property of no person shall be taken for public use, without just compensation …” (Art. 1, § 11). Thus, the constitution requires that people whose property is taken by eminent domain be justly compensated. (We have attached a recent OLR Report that deals with just compensation, 2005-R-0022).