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How Does the Fifth Amendment Protect Property?

50 min


  • Students will explain how the Fifth Amendment protects property rights.
  • Students will understand the concepts of just compensation and eminent domain.
  • Students will analyze government actions to determine whether or not the actions would be considered a “taking.”

  1. Have students read Handout B: Background Essay – How Does the Fifth Amendment Protect Property?
  2. Discuss each definition on Handout B as a class.

  1. Cut out the scenario cards on Handout C: Property and the Supreme Court. Ask two students to come to the front of the room, assume the roles of the people on the first scenario card, and present the information to the class in role-play form.
  2. After students have finished presenting, conduct a large-group discussion about the situation. Ask the class:
    • Is the situation described a “taking” of property?
    • Is the situation described a constitutional exercise of government power?
    • If so, what would be the best way to determine just compensation?
  3. Repeat this process for all three scenarios.
  4. After the scenarios have all been discussed, distribute or read aloud Handout D: Updates to share with the students how the Supreme Court ruled on each case. Ask students to share their reactions to the ruling.

As a large group, discuss the following questions:

  1. In which case did the government attempt to take physical property? (Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 1987)
  2. In which case did the Court rule that a “taking” had occurred, even though no land was actually taken? (United States v. Causby, 1946)
  3. In which case did the Supreme Court interpret “public use” as “public benefit? Is there a difference? (Kelo v. New London, 2005)
  4. How does the Kelo ruling differ from the other property rulings? Why do you think it has been a very controversial decision?
  5. Is redevelopment through eminent domain the only way to revitalize a neighborhood? Is it the best way? What other methods can you think of?

  1. The Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London (2005) has prompted some states to enact laws preventing the use of eminent domain to take non-blighted property for economic development. As of 2013, eleven state supreme courts have forbidden Kelo-style takings under their state constitutions. Additionally, at least one bank has said it will not loan money to be used for development of land that was obtained through this kind of taking. Have students investigate the public and private reactions to the Kelo case and present their findings in a PowerPoint or oral presentation.
  2. Have students learn more about the case of Berman v. Parker (1954), an important precedent for Kelo v. New London (2005). Students should make a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two cases with information on: the reasons the government gave for taking land; arguments against the takings; the court’s rulings; and who was affected by the decisions. Are “blight” takings or “redevelopment” takings more common? Which type is most important to the issue of property rights?

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

How Do Due Process Protections for the Accused Protect Us All?