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Berman v. Parker

There Are No Limits On The Public's Needs

Douglas went on to argue that a legislature's police powers are total and unlimited. (His statement to this effect subsequently was much quoted.)

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 . . . The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive . . . 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 . . . [has] 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 Congress had decided that a certain act serves a public purpose, then it could use any means to achieve that goal. "Once the object is within the authority of Congress, the means by which it will be attained is also for Congress to determine." Eminent domain is among the methods Congress may legitimately use. And it may seize land as well as buildings. "If the agency considers it necessary . . . to take full title to the real property involved, it may do so. It is not for the courts to determine . . . "

Earlier, Douglas had declared that in eminent domain or takings cases "the role of the judiciary . . . is an extremely narrow one." That role, he concluded, was solely to inquire whether "just compensation" has been paid. The legislature has unlimited discretion in deciding what constitutes a "public" purpose, and it may use any means to achieve that purpose. "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."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Berman v. Parker - Significance, Rebuilding The Nation's Capital, There Are No Limits On The Public's Needs