The right of eminent domain is the offspring of political necessity, and is inseparable from sovereignty unless denied to it by its fundamental law. It cannot be exercised, except upon condition that just compensation shall be made to the owner; and it is the duty of the state, in the conduct of the inquest by which the compensation is ascertained, to see that it is just, not merely to the individual whose property is taken, but to the public which is to pay for it. The just compensation required by the Constitution to be made to the owner is to be measured by the loss caused to him by the appropriation. He is entitled to receive the value of what he has been deprived of, and no more. To award him less would be unjust to him; to award him more would be unjust to the public.
The constitutionality of 27 Stat. 532 was called into question in an action involving condemnation for a new highway in the District of Columbia. The district court and court of appeals held that the act, which provided for a permanent system of highways in that part of the District of Columbia lying outside of cities, was unconstitutional. On appeal, the United States Supreme Court held that the act, which governed the condemnation of land in the District of Columbia for the establishment of public highways, did not violate U.S. Const. amend. V or any other provision of the federal constitution. The Court reversed and remanded the judgment
Was the condemnation act violative of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution?
The Court held that Congress, in the exercise of the right of taxation in the District of Columbia, could direct that half of the amount of the compensation or damages awarded to the owners of lands appropriated for the public use for a highway be assessed and charged upon the District of Columbia, and the other half upon the lands benefited thereby within the district, in proportion to the benefit.