348 U.S. 26
Argued Oct. 19, 1954.
Decided Nov. 22, 1954.
27 James C. Toomey and Joseph H. Schneider, Washington,
D.C., for appellants.
Simon E. Sobeloff, Sol. Gen., Washington, D.C., for appellees.
Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
is an appeal, 28 U.S.C. s 1253, 28 U.S.C.A. s 1253, from the judgment of a
three-judge District Court which dismissed a complaint seeking to enjoin
the condemnation of appellants' property under the District of Columbia
Redevelopment Act of 1945, 60 Stat. 790, D.C.Code 1951, ss 5--701 to
5--719. The challenge was to the constitutionality of the Act,
particularly as applied to the taking of appellants' property. The
District Court sustained the constitutionality of the Act. 117 F.Supp.
By s 2 of the Act, Congress made a
'legislative determination' that 'owing to technological and sociological
changes, obsolete lay-out, and other factors, conditions existing in the
District of Columbia with respect to substandard housing and blighted
areas, including the use of buildings in alleys as dwellings for human
habitation, are injurious to the public health, safety, morals, and
welfare, and it is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States
to protect and promote the welfare of the inhabitants of the seat of the
Government by eliminating all such injurious conditions by employing all
means necessary and appropriate for the purpose'. [FN1]
The Act does not define either 'slums' or 'blighted areas.'
Section 3(r), however, states:
"Substandard housing conditions' means the conditions obtaining in
connection with the existence of any dwelling, or dwellings, or housing
accommodations for human beings, which because of lack of sanitary
facilities, ventilation, or light, or because of dilapidation,
overcrowding, faulty interior arrangement, or any combination of these
factors, is in the opinion of the Commissioners detrimental to the safety,
health, morals, or welfare of the inhabitants of the District of
Section 2 goes on to declare
that acquisition of property is necessary to eliminate these
Congress further finds in s 2 that these ends cannot be attained 'by the
ordinary operations of private enterprise alone without public
participation'; that 'the sound replanning and redevelopment of an
obsolescent or obsolescing portion' of the District 'cannot be
accomplished unless it be done in the light of comprehensive and
coordinated planning of the whole of the territory of the District of
Columbia and its environs'; and that 'the acquisition and the assembly of
real property and the leasing or sale thereof for redevelopment pursuant
to a project area redevelopment plan * * * is hereby declared to be a
Section 4 creates the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land
Agency (hereinafter called
the Agency), composed of five members, which is granted power by s 5(a) to
acquire and assemble, by eminent domain and otherwise, real property for
'the redevelopment of blighted territory in the District of Columbia and
the prevention, reduction, or
elimination of blighting factors or causes of blight'.
Section 6(a) of the Act directs the National Capital Planning
called the Planning Commission) to make and develop 'a comprehensive or
general plan' of the District, including 'a land‑use plan' which
designates land for use for 'housing, business, industry, recreation,
education, public buildings, public reservations, and other general
categories of public and private uses of the land.' Section 6(b)
authorizes the Planning Commission to adopt redevelopment plans for
specific project areas. These plans are subject to the approval of the
District Commissioners after a public hearing; and they prescribe the
various public and private land uses for the respective areas, the
'standards of population density and building intensity', and 'the amount
or character or class of any low‑rent housing'. s 6(b).
Once the Planning Commission adopts a plan and that plan is approved by
the Commissioners, the Planning Commission certifies it to the Agency. s
6(d). At that point, the Agency is authorized to acquire and assemble the
real property in the area. Id.
After the real estate has been assembled, the Agency is
authorized to transfer to public agencies the land to be devoted to such
public purposes as streets, utilities, recreational facilities, and
schools, s 7(a), and to lease or sell the remainder as an entirety or in
parts to a redevelopment company, individual, or partnership. s 7(b), (f).
The leases or sales must provide that the lessees or purchasers will carry
out the redevelopment plan and that 'no use shall be made of any land or
real property included in the lease or sale nor any building or structure
erected thereon' which does not conform to the plan. ss 7(d), 11.
Preference is to be given to private enterprise over public agencies in
executing the redevelopment plan. s 7(g).
The first project undertaken under the Act relates to Project
Area B in Southwest Washington, D.C. In 1950 the Planning Commission
prepared and published a comprehensive plan for the District. Surveys
revealed that in Area B, 64.3% of the dwellings were beyond repair, 18.4%
needed major repairs, only 17.3% were satisfactory; 57.8% of the dwellings
had outside toilets, 60.3% had no baths, 29.3% lacked electricity, 82.2%
had no wash basins or laundry tubs, 83.8% lacked central heating. In the
judgment of the District's Director of Health it was necessary to
redevelop Area B in the interests of public health. The population of Area
B amounted to 5,012 persons, of whom 97.5% were Negroes.
The plan for Area B specifies the boundaries and allocates the
use of the land for various purposes. It makes detailed provisions for
types of dwelling units and provides that at least one-third of them are
to be low-rent 31 housing with
a maximum rental of $17 per room per month.
After a public hearing, the
Commissioners approved the plan and the Planning Commission certified it
to the Agency for execution. The Agency undertook the preliminary steps
for redevelopment of the area when this suit was brought.
Appellants own property in
Area B at 712 Fourth Street, S.W. It is not used as a dwelling or place of
habitation. A department store is located on it. Appellants object to the
appropriation of this property for the purposes of the project. They claim
that their property may not to taken constitutionally for this project. It
is commercial, not residential property; it is not slum housing; it will
be put into the project under the management of a private, not a public,
agency and redeveloped for private, not public, use. That is the argument;
and the contention is that appellants' private property is being taken
contrary to two mandates of the Fifth Amendment -- (1) 'No person shall *
* * be deprived of * * * property, without due process of law'; (2) 'nor
shall private property be taken for public use, without just
compensation.' To take for the purpose of ridding the area of slums is one
thing; it is quite another, the argument goes, to take a man's property
merely to develop a better balanced, more attractive community. The
District Court, while agreeing in general with that argument, saved the
Act by construing it to mean that the Agency could condemn property only
for the reasonable necessities of slum clearance and prevention, its
concept of 'slum' being the existence of conditions 'injurious to the
public health, safety, morals and welfare.' 117 F.Supp. 705, 724-725.
The power of Congress over
the District of Columbia includes all the legislative powers which a state
may exercise over its affairs. See District of Columbia v. John R.
Thompson 32 Co., 346 U.S. 100,
108, 73 S.Ct. 1007, 1011, 97 L.Ed. 1480. We deal, in other words, with
what traditionally has been known as the police power. An attempt to
define its reach or trace its outer limits is fruitless, for each case
must turn on its own facts. The definition is essentially the product of
legislative determinations addressed to the purposes of government,
purposes neither abstractly nor historically capable of complete
definition. Subject to specific constitutional limitations, when the
legislature has spoken, the public interest has been declared in terms
well‑nigh conclusive. In such cases the legislature, not the
judiciary, is the main guardian of the public needs to be served by social
legislation, whether it be Congress legislating concerning the District of
Columbia, see Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135, 41 S.Ct. 458, 65 L.Ed. 865, or
the States legislating concerning local affairs. See Olsen v. State of
Nebraska, 313 U.S. 236, 61 S.Ct. 862, 85 L.Ed. 1305; Lincoln Federal Labor
Union No. 19129, A.F. of L. v. Northwestern Co., 335 U.S. 525, 69 S.Ct.
251, 93 L.Ed. 212; California State Ass'n Inter‑Ins. Bureau v.
Maloney, 341 U.S. 105, 71 S.Ct. 601, 95 L.Ed. 788. This principle admits
of no exception merely because the power of eminent domain is involved.
The role of the judiciary in determining whether that power is being
exercised for a public purpose is an extremely narrow one. See Old
Dominion Land Co. v. United States, 269 U.S. 55, 66, 46 S.Ct. 39, 40, 70
L.Ed. 162; United States ex rel. Tennessee Valley Authority v. Welch, 327
U.S. 546, 552, 66 S.Ct. 715, 718, 90 L.Ed. 843.
Public safety, public
health, morality, peace and quiet, law and order -- these are some of the
more conspicuous examples of the traditional application of the police
power to municipal affairs. Yet they merely illustrate the scope of the
power and do not delimit it. See Noble State Bank v. Haskell, 219 U.S.
104, 111, 31 S.Ct. 186, 188, 55 L.Ed. 112. Miserable and disreputable
housing conditions may do more than spread disease and crime and
immorality. They may also suffocate the spirit by reducing the people who
live there to the status of cattle. They may indeed make living an almost
insufferable burden. They may also be an ugly sore, a blight on the
community which robs it of charm,
33 which makes it a place from which men turn. The misery of housing
may despoil a community as an open sewer may ruin a river.
We do not sit to determine
whether a particular housing project is or is not desirable. The concept
of the public welfare is broad and inclusive. See Day-Brite Lighting, Inc.
v. State of Missouri, 342 U.S. 421, 424, 72 S.Ct. 405, 407, 96 L.Ed. 469.
The values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as
well as monetary. It is within the power of the legislature to determine
that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as
well as clean, well-balanced as well as carefully patrolled.
In the present case, the Congress and its authorized agencies have made
determinations that take into account a wide variety of values. It is not
for us to reappraise them. If those who govern the District of Columbia
decide that the Nation's Capital should be beautiful as well as sanitary,
there is nothing in the Fifth Amendment that stands in the way.
Once the object is within
the authority of Congress, the right to realize it through the exercise of
eminent domain is clear. For the power of eminent domain is merely the
means to the end. See Luxton v. North River Bridge Co., 153 U.S. 525, 529-530,
14 S.Ct. 891, 892, 38 L.Ed. 808; United States v. Gettysburg Electric R.
Co., 160 U.S. 668, 679, 16 S.Ct. 427, 429, 40 L.Ed. 576. Once the object
is within the authority of Congress, the means by which it will be
attained is also for Congress to determine. Here one of the means chosen
is the use of private enterprise for redevelopment of the area. Appellants
argue that this makes the project a taking from one businessman for the
benefit of another businessman. But the means of executing the project are
for Congress and Congress alone to determine, once the public purpose has
been established. See Luxton v. North River Bridge Co., supra; cf.
Highland v. Russell Car Co., 279 U.S. 253, 49 S.Ct. 314, 73 L.Ed. 688. The
public end may be as well or better served through an
34 agency of private enterprise than through a department of
government -- or so the Congress might conclude. We cannot say that public
ownership is the sole method of promoting the public purposes of community
redevelopment projects. What we have said also disposes of any contention
concerning the fact that certain property owners in the area may be
permitted to repurchase their properties for redevelopment in harmony with
the overall plan. That, too, is a legitimate means which Congress and its
agencies may adopt, if they choose.
In the present case,
Congress and its authorized agencies attack the problem of the blighted
parts of the community on an area rather than on a structure-by-structure
basis. That, too, is opposed by appellants. They maintain that since their
building does not imperil health or safety nor contribute to the making of
a slum or a blighted area, it cannot be swept into a redevelopment plan by
the mere dictum of the Planning Commission or the Commissioners. The
particular uses to be made of the land in the project were determined with
regard to the needs of the particular community. The experts concluded
that if the community were to be healthy, if it were not to revert again
to a blighted or slum area, as though possessed of a congenital disease,
the area must be planned as a whole. It was not enough, they believed, to
remove existing buildings that were insanitary or unsightly. It was
important to redesign the whole area so as to eliminate the conditions
that cause slums‑‑ the overcrowding of dwellings, the lack of
parks, the lack of adequate streets and alleys, the absence of
recreational areas, the lack of light and air, the presence of outmoded
street patterns. It was believed that the piecemeal approach, the removal
of individual structures that were offensive, would be only a palliative.
The entire area needed redesigning so that a balanced, integrated plan
could be developed for the region, including not only new homes
35 but also schools, churches, parks, streets, and shopping centers.
In this way it was hoped that the cycle of decay of the area could be
controlled and the birth of future slums prevented. Cf. Gohld Realty Co.
v. City of Hartford, 141 Conn. 135, 141-144, 104 A.2d 365, 368-370; Hunter
v. Norfolk Redevelopment Authority, 195 Va. 326, 338-339, 78 S.E.2d 893,
900-901. Such diversification in future use is plainly relevant to the maintenance of the desired
housing standards and therefore within congressional power.
The District Court below
suggested that, if such a broad scope were intended for the statute, the
standards contained in the Act would not be sufficiently definite to
sustain the delegation of authority. 117 F.Supp. 705, 721. We do not
agree. We think the standards prescribed were adequate for executing the
plan to eliminate not only slums as narrowly defined by the District Court
but also the blighted areas that tend to produce slums. Property may of
course be taken for this redevelopment which, standing by itself, is
innocuous and unoffending. But we have said enough to indicate that it is
the need of the area as a whole which Congress and its agencies are
evaluating. If owner after owner were permitted to resist these
redevelopment programs on the ground that his particular property was not
being used against the public interest, integrated plans for redevelopment
would suffer greatly. The argument pressed on us is, indeed, a plea to
substitute the landowner's standard of the public need for the standard
prescribed by Congress. But as we have already stated, community
redevelopment programs need not, by force of the Constitution, be on a
piecemeal basis-lot by lot, building by building.
It is not for the courts to
oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size
of a particular project area. Once the question of the public purpose has
been decided, the amount and character of land to be taken for the project
and the need for a particular 36 tract to complete the integrated plan rests in the discretion of
the legislative branch. See Shoemaker v. United States, 147 U.S. 282, 298,
13 S.Ct. 361, 390, 37 L.Ed. 170; United States ex rel. Tennessee Valley
Authority v. Welch, supra, 327 U.S. at page 554, 66 S.Ct. at page 718;
United States v. Carmack, 329 U.S. 230, 247, 67 S.Ct. 252, 260, 91 L.Ed.
The District Court
indicated grave doubts concerning the Agency's right to take full title to
the land as distinguished from the objectionable buildings located on it.
117 F.Supp. 705, 715-719. We do not share those doubts. If the Agency
considers it necessary in carrying out the redevelopment project to take
full title to the real property involved, it may do so. It is not for the
courts to determine whether it is necessary for successful consummation of
the project that unsafe, unsightly, or insanitary buildings alone be taken
or whether title to the land be included, any more than it is the function
of the courts to sort and choose among the various parcels selected for
The rights of these
property owners are satisfied when they receive that just compensation
which the Fifth Amendment exacts as the price of the taking.
The judgment of the District Court, as modified by this
opinion, is affirmed.