Public use doctrine Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Right of the general public to use property in a way that contributes to the general welfare. In eminent domain cases, this right is superior to any individual’s right. Specific definitions of public use are often a function of economic theory and political philosophy.

The Supreme Court broadly interpreted the public use doctrine to mean that land seized under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution must be used for the public interest or in some way serve a legitimate public purpose. The Court typically defers to the legislative branch in defining the extent to which a “public purpose” is achieved. For example, in Berman v. Parker[case]Berman v. Parker[Berman v. Parker] (1954), a unanimous Court stated that the judiciary’s role in determining whether government’s power to take lands and convert them to public use was being exercised for a public purpose was “extremely narrow.” Moreover, in Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff[case]Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff[Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff] (1984), the Court sustained Hawaii’s Land Reform Act of 1967, which sought to break up large estates and give families the ability to buy property from the state. Writing for the Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued that when “the legislature’s purpose is legitimate and its means are not irrational, our cases make clear that empirical debates over the wisdom of takings [are] not to be carried out in federal courts.”Takings clause

In terms of patentPatent law, public use signifies that an inventor has permitted his or her invention to be used by the general public either with or without compensation. The invention is thus said to be in public use. Patent law declares a patent to be invalid if the invention has been in public use for more than one year before patent application.

Berman v. Parker

Bill of Rights


Environmental law

Fifth Amendment


Takings clause

Categories: History